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WNY prepares for Canadian travelers as border opens on November 8th

Concerns raised over the Canadian government requiring COVID-19 PCR testing for Canadians returning home.
Posted at 6:46 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-07 18:16:07-05

ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — For the first time in 18 months, fully vaccinated Canadians will be able to cross the land border into Western New York.

The border opens on Monday, November 8th. If you are a Canadian citizen, all you will need to cross is your Canadian passport, and proof of vaccination. Unlike United States citizens travel into Canada, you will not need any sort of "ArriveCan" application, or a negative COVID-19 PCR test.

"The point of contention lies in the Canadian government's COVID-19 testing requirement - that's what has made this border reopening not fully normal," said Patrick Whalen, the President of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance and the Niagara Global Tourism Institute.

The Canadian Office of Customs and Border Protection requires a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival to the border. Canadians who plan on spending less than 72 hours in the United States have the option of testing in Canada, but those looking for an extended stay will have to test in the United States.

"Concern is all about availability, and pricing. It's hard enough to get a COVID test, let alone when you're on a specific deadline. Plus prices are high for out-of-pocket tests," he added.

According to the Canadian government, these tests are viable for border crossing:

  • PCR - Polymerase chain reaction
  • Nucleic acid test (NAT) or Nucleic acid amplification test (NAATs)
  • Reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)

These tests are typically covered in-part or completely by American health insurance, but for those coming from out of the country, those tests must be paid for out-of-pocket.

“If you are vaccinated, that has to account for something. It has to be acknowledged and recognized. It has to be celebrated and embraced. Is the testing requirement absolutely essential … i would say not," said Rep. Brian Higgins (D, NY-26) who has applauded the Canadian government for opening the border, but believes the testing requirement is unsustainable.

In a letter sent to the Canadian ambassador Monday, he said the testing "will have adverse side effects that will harm our respective economic recoveries.”

The tests in some cases can cost upwards of $300 CAD, according to Higgins.

The Congressman will be meeting on November 8th with:

                Mayor Jim Diodati, Niagara Falls, ON
                Mayor Robert Restaino, Niagara Falls, NY
                Mayor Michael Bradley, Sarnia, ON
                Mayor Drew Dilkens, Windsor, ON

"This meeting will be a call to action to eliminate the testing requirement," he added.

In a press conference on Tuesday, United States Customs and Border Protection officers deferred all questions about post-arrival testing to the Canadian government.

"For the question about testing requirements about Canadians returning to Canada i would defer that question to the Canadian government,” said Matthew Davies, the Executive Director of the Department.

In order to solve the availability issue, Canadians looking to travel to the United States have been relying on local organizations to help supply tests - in many cases, as quickly as possible.

"We are here to serve the community, but focused on international travel - we are here to help our Canadian friends," said Karen Misiak, the founder of RapidTestWNY, which specializes in short wait times, border-safe travel documents, and results.

RapidTestWNY has recently begun to create pop-up sites near border locations, including the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, the Peace Bridge, and the Rainbow Bridge, in order to help with last minute issues.

"So many times that short 72-hour window doesn't work," said Misiak.

"You don't get your results in time, or they expire, its a mess. We are here to alleviate all that stress, get you your test, your hopefully negative result, and have you be on your way," she added.

Many local businesses have expressed gratitude for the border opening, but also concern for the testing requirement.

Holimont Ski Resort in Ellicottville relies heavily on Canadian tourists in the winter months, and hopes that the border opening will bring their Canadian friends back.

"We knew this was going to be an issue. Our Canadian customers have let us know, and we decided instead of waiting, we were going to find a solution," said Ed Youmans, the General Manager at Holimont.

Holimont will be offering a free testing site at the resort in Ellicottville for all members, to further entice Canadians back to the slopes and to make them feel more comfortable.

"Half our membership is Canadian, and we pride ourselves on that ... but missing half your members has been tough. We will do anything to have them back, and its good for our entire community," he said.

Other businesses, like Holiday Valley Resort, are hopeful that this policy will be changed.

"We love our Canadian friends, but we also love our Canadian customers," said Jane Eshbaugh, the Director of Marketing at Holiday Valley Resort.

About 20-30% of Holiday Valley Resort's business is from Canadian customers, Eshbaugh estimates. That number was zero last year due to the border closure.

"I'm excited, but we're not out of the woods yet. I'm still nervous," she added.

The border, along with the testing sites from RapidTestWNY and Holimont, all open just after midnight on Monday, November 8th.