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The U.S. will reopen land borders to Canada and Mexico

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

For more than 19 months, most foreign travelers seeking to enter the United States by land have been barred. People have been able to fly to the U.S. from Canada throughout the pandemic, but land crossing in both directions was restricted to essential travel. Tomorrow, the rules change, and the U.S. will begin admitting people by land who can certify they are fully vaccinated. Emma Jacobs reports.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Nikki Dindo lives a five-minute drive from the American border in White Rock, British Columbia. Pre-pandemic, she crossed at least once a week to see friends, to pick up online shopping purchases from her American P.O. Box and visit favorite retailers found only south of the border. Once Monday, November 8 was announced as the date the U.S. would start admitting vaccinated travelers by land, she started planning a trip for this coming weekend to neighboring Blaine, Wash., and Trader Joe's.

NIKKI DINDO: I have been having everyone from my brother and his fiancee to my cousins and my friends. Everyone is getting in their orders. So I, like, might need to honestly borrow, like, my dad's SUV to be able to carry - like, bring everything back with me because I am going to clean them out.

JACOBS: She's excited to be able to cross the border but doesn't expect she'll be able to go again for at least a couple of months because while Canada reopened its border to fully vaccinated Americans in August, it still requires a negative PCR test from nearly all travelers, including returning Canadians.

DINDO: It's just not really feasible to be doing it, you know, even on a monthly basis anymore if you've got to pay, you know, 250 bucks to get your PCR test every single time.

JACOBS: The U.S. will not require COVID tests for those arriving by land. Garry North is head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in upstate New York. The region is home to a number of branch offices of Canadian companies.

GARRY DOUGLAS: Extremely highly welcome. I want to say that up front. It is a major step from where we have been to where we will be starting on Monday.

JACOBS: He expects Canadians will resume business travel to meet with American clients and suppliers, but he doesn't expect to see a return of day trippers and tourists who made up the bulk of border crossings in his region. Testing costs will also continue to burden members of divided families, says Canadian Member of Parliament Brian Masse. He represents Windsor, Ontario, right across the border from Detroit, Mich.

BRIAN MASSE: For example, a family of five over here that's going to cost them $1,000 to go to a funeral for a relative, and they just can't afford that. So it'll be a choice of who goes and who doesn't. And that's additional mental health and stress on a family that we know has been so painful for people for the last two years.

JACOBS: He argues the Canadian government should take on testing costs or move to cheaper and faster antigen tests. They're a little less sensitive than PCR. Canada's health agency told NPR it continually evaluates the impact of its border measures but that its priority is the health and safety of Canadians. On the American side, Congressman Brian Higgins is disappointed Canada is keeping its testing requirement. He's a Democrat whose New York district is right on the border. He's wanted it open for months. And he says the White House didn't work closely enough with Canada.

BRIAN HIGGINS: The U.S. policy has been grossly mismanaged. And, you know, we're not getting back to a sense of normalcy.

JACOBS: The White House has said it has been following the advice of health officials on the border rules. They've met with Canadian officials on this almost every week. A U.S. official who was not authorized to speak on the record says they expect long lines at the border tomorrow and says they're trying to boost their staffing levels. For NPR news, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story mistakenly identifies the head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce as Garry North. His name is Garry Douglas.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE VASS'S "QUIET VOICES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 7, 2021 at 11:00 PM CST
This story mistakenly identifies the head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce as Garry North. His name is Garry Douglas.