The United States government earlier this month said the country's northern border will remain closed to nonessential Canadian travelers until at least Sept. 21 and could be extended again. If the border opens then, will Canadians return to North Dakota and the region?

Some believe there will be disincentives facing Canadians who otherwise might consider heading south into places like North Dakota. Testing for the coronavirus will play a key role, should the United States enact reciprocal requirements similar to Canada’s, but questions remain about how the border should be reopened. Molecular tests in Canada aren’t cheap, and at least one north-of-the-border businessman thinks they will be required.

“I can't see it playing out any other way,” said Simon Resch, owner of the Duty Free Store in Emerson, Man.

Resch said molecular tests in Winnipeg can cost as much as $400 Canadian per person. Other estimates run about $250. For a family of four that means dishing out at least an extra $1,000, on top of hotels, shopping and dining out, if the U.S. implements requirements similar to Canada.

Unlike in North Dakota, where testing is largely free -- both in the sense of money and desire -- to anyone who wants one, Manitoba has regulations regarding testing. Symptomatic people, or people who have been advised by a public health official, may visit a COVID-19 testing site. Travelers returning to the province also must follow testing regulations. The situation is different for people leaving the province for recreational travel.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

“If people without symptoms require a test for the purpose of pre-travel, they should seek testing at a private facility,” reads a portion of Manitoba’s government website about testing regulations.

Timing troubles and masks

Canadian visitors having to navigate North Dakota’s testing process, and the wait times it takes for molecular tests, also could be a disincentive.

According to Rob Warren, a marketing professor at UND, Canada has set the same requirements for its citizens as it has for American travelers. They need to show a negative molecular test at the border when they return home. Warren, who holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, recently made a trip to Winnipeg, which he said went smoothly.

But travel for longer periods of time could mean Canadian visitors need to test twice -- once when they enter, should it be required, and once when they go home, if the time between the first test passes 72 hours.

Molecular tests can be taken at UND’s High Performance Center on Monday through Friday, from 7-11 a.m. Results can take up to 72 hours, and tests are not processed on Sundays. Altru Health System in Grand Forks recently stopped doing travel testing, as the system focuses on symptomatic testing. The testing in Grand Forks could make for a messy situation when Canadians want to go home.

“They'll test in Canada for one, and then they’ll have to end up testing down here, would be my guess,” Warren said.

Warren also said people in Winnipeg largely are wearing masks, even without a mandate. In Grand Forks, masks can be seen here or there, but not nearly to the extent they were seen earlier in the pandemic. Coronavirus-leery Canadians may put off travel if they don’t feel safe in largely-unmasked environments.

“I would agree with that 100%,” Warren said.

What does a safe reopening look like?

In an Aug. 20 letter, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., urged President Joe Biden to take action on the northern border. The closure, Hoeven wrote, is bad for trade and creates problems for people with family and property on the other side. He called for the border to reopen, given that vaccines are widely available, and vaccination rates in Canada have surpassed those in the U.S.

Canada began accepting vaccinated American travelers on Aug. 9.

The letter called for “nonessential travel (to) be safely reinstated between the United States and Canada as soon as possible.”

But what does “safely reinstated” mean?

When asked, Hoeven's office staff replied: “The senator believes we can safely reopen the U.S.-Canada border, especially since Canada has already done so for U.S. citizens and trade. The administration should put in place a common-sense approach that safely allows for non-essential travel into the U.S. from Canada.”

At present, Americans returning home by land do not need to provide a negative test. Three Herald reporters crossed the Canadian border on Aug. 9, the first day vaccinated Americans were able to enter the country. Crossing into Canada was mostly smooth, despite delayed test results for one reporter. After a phone call to the North Dakota Department of Health, results were delivered via email to the reporter's phone. The reporters returned to the United States without incident.