CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — "I've been away from him for too long. We spent Christmas together over a computer monitor and an iPad and birthdays — we missed both my birthdays — we've missed it all for a year," said an emotional Tammy Scott, as she was reunited with her boyfriend, Merton Labounty, for the first time in 18 months.
The couple has been separated by the U.S.-Canada border, which has been closed to non-essential travel since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
They finally were able to see each other in person again late Sunday night at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The Canadian border remains closed to most American travelers until at least July 21 but under the current, loosened travel restrictions, fully vaccinated Canadians can fly into the U.S. and return to Canada without quarantining for a full two weeks.
For Tammy, who lives just 30 minutes away from Buffalo, that meant she had to drive to Toronto to fly to Buffalo through Chicago.
"We've been right beside each other that's the worst part," she told 7 Eyewitness News Sunday night.
The border closure has been tough for Merton, who lives in Western New York but has no family here. He told 7 Eyewitness News the last year has taken such a toll on his mental health that he has experienced depression and even suicidal thoughts.
For that reason, Tammy and Merton are among the many families and couples in Western New York that say the continued border closure is a public health crisis. They have taken part in the protests on both sides of the border calling for an end to the travel ban.
"I just don't know why they could never have figured out a way to have loved ones become essential," said Scott.