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Canadians can cross the border next week, but will testing and COVID cases keep them away?

Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that fully-vaccinated noncitizens will be allowed to cross the border for the first time since March 2020. Travel organizations in North Dakota and Minnesota have started ramping up marketing efforts aimed at north-of-the-border visitors, but locally, some are saying they are expecting a trickle, rather than a flood of visitors.

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Cars from the U.S. trickle across the border at Emerson, Manitoba, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, the first day in nearly 18 months since the border closed due to COVID-19. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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Nonessential travel restrictions at U.S. land and ferry ports of entry will expire on Monday, Nov. 8, meaning Canadian visitors can again come to the region.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that fully-vaccinated noncitizens will be allowed to cross the border for the first time since March 2020. Travel organizations in North Dakota and Minnesota have started ramping up marketing efforts aimed at north-of-the-border visitors, but locally, some are saying they are expecting a trickle, rather than a flood of visitors.

To enter the United States, Canadian travelers need to show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19, and must verbally attest to their reason for travel, during a border inspection. Approved vaccines include Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, among others.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. is not requiring proof of a negative coronavirus test at land crossings. When Canadians return home they need to show a negative test taken within 72 hours of crossing, meaning weekend visitors might need to pay for those tests in Canada, especially if they are unsure of getting results back from a local provider in a timely manner.

“Based on conversations with people in Winnipeg, I’m going with a trickle,” said Robert Warren, a marketing instructor at UND, of the potential southern flow of travelers. “The test costs $200 Canadian per person, which is expensive for a weekend getaway.”

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article7263872.ece POLL: Have you been to Canada since the border reopened? Have you been to Canada since the border reopened? Yes No

And getting local test results back on time has proven tricky. When the Canadian border opened up to American travelers in August, a trio of Herald reporters made the arrangements to cross. While the crossing went smoothly, one reporter didn’t have their results back until just before reaching the border, and had to call the North Dakota Department of Health to have them emailed. Another reporter made it across within minutes of the 72-hour threshold.

Despite testing challenges, Warren, a dual U.S./Canadian citizen, said he has urged Manitobans he knows to visit.

“I’ve tried everything I can think of to encourage folks in Manitoba to visit (Grand Forks), from mentioning Happy Harry’s Penny Sale to the new restaurants, but have had no one jump up and say “We’re coming,’” Warren said.

Warren said some Manitobans may wait either until the testing requirement is lifted, or until coronavirus numbers decline in the state. Manitobans, he said, are conservative when it comes to taking health risks.

Julie Rygg, executive director at Visit Greater Grand Forks, told the Herald her organization will have welcoming billboards in place north of the border and along Interstate 29. The local travel bureau has also sent decals and window banners bearing welcoming messages to businesses that want them. Larger banners will also soon be available.

Rygg is optimistic about the return of Canadians, but realistic about the impact of coronavirus testing.

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“Because of the requirements, we may not see a stampede of visitors right away, but we have been hearing from our Manitoba friends that they are eager to come back,” she said.

Testing information for Canadian visitors can be found on Visit Greater Grand Forks’ website.

Explore Minnesota has also launched a multi-channel “Welcome back” campaign that makes use of social media and digital billboards. The state’s travel arm ran two full-page ads in the Winnipeg Free Press and Thunder Bay's Chronicle-Journal on Saturday, Oct. 30. The message: “To rekindle the special connection we have with our neighbors to the north.”

Warren said the border could see a surge in travelers heading to warmer southern locations, now that they can drive across.

But another area that could benefit is Grand Forks International Airport. Canadians flying from there won’t need to immediately worry about testing, if they are spending the winter in southern states, or taking a week-long vacation in the colder months. Ryan Riesinger, executive director of GFK, said Manitobans have long been an important demographic for the airport, and he is hopeful of getting some of those travelers back. GFK staff ramped up their Winnipeg marketing campaign in October, when they learned the border would open.

“We believe there's a lot of pent up demand for Canadians and Canadian snowbirds in particular, because many weren't able to go to their winter destinations last year,” Riesinger said.

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Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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