Testing requirements for entry to Canada to change on Monday, but will North Dakota businesses benefit?
Starting Feb. 28, vaccinated travelers entering Canada will be able to present the results of a rapid antigen test taken the day before crossing the border, or a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before crossing.
NECHE, N.D. — Feelings are mixed about whether a Canadian testing requirement set to change on Monday will help American businesses.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a big change, unfortunately,” said Deanna Newell, owner of Action Parcel in Neche, North Dakota. “I wish I could say differently.”
Starting Monday, Feb. 28, vaccinated travelers entering Canada will be able to present the results of a rapid antigen test taken the day before crossing the border, or a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before crossing.
Until Feb. 28, the only results accepted are those from a PCR test, which can take up to a few days to get results back. While the border opened in November, testing requirements to re-enter Canada have deterred Canadians from making trips to the United States.
But Newell is not optimistic the changes will bring business back to her shop. Parcel pickup locations act as a storage warehouse for items that Canadian citizens purchase from the U.S. to avoid international shipping fees or that are not shipped directly to Canada.
Before the pandemic, Canadian citizens could cross the border to pick up items they had delivered to the pickup location. With a re-entry test required for even short trips across the border, and the chance of being selected for a random arrival test upon entry to Canada, Newell’s business has struggled.
Even with less strict testing requirements, she thinks Canadians will still be worried about the consequences of crossing the border.
“People up in Canada are so scared of the random testing and fines that could happen because of the random testing,” said Newell. “I think people are just spooked, they’re just too afraid of too many things.”
She worries that after two years of restricted travel, the loss of business will be permanent.
“My fear is that they may have changed their ways of shopping,” she said. “I hate to be negative, but after two years, are they going to start going back to this?”
Like Newell, Dawn Mandt, executive director of the Red River Regional Council, believes it will take more than easing restrictions to bring Canadian business back to North Dakota. Mandt also serves on the Rendezvous Region Tourism Council, which works to bring visitors to northeastern North Dakota.
“Likely we will not see full consumer traffic until the restrictions are fully lifted,” said Mandt.
In an October 2021 report, the Red River Regional Council estimated that restaurants, gas stations, hotels, entertainment and recreation businesses across North Dakota lost $200 million between March 2020 and October 2021.
Frost Fire Park, a ski hill near Walhalla, North Dakota, is 6 miles away from the Canadian border, and Mandt says Canadian visitors have historically made up half of Frost Fire’s winter customers. For the last two winters, that customer base has been cut off, except for a short window of time when Canadian testing requirements were dropped for Canadians making short trips to the U.S.
On Nov. 30, the Canadian government lifted testing requirements for Canadians returning to Canada within a 72-hour window , but on Dec. 21, the requirement was reinstated to limit spread of the omicron variant.
“Having the ability to have Canadian skiers and snowboarders was significant. However, this was only for one or two weeks after Frost Fire opened for the winter season,” said Mandt. The park opened for the season on Dec. 12.
The new testing requirements on Monday will still require anyone entering Canada to present test results, even for short trips, and Mandt thinks any testing requirements will keep Canadians in Canada. She also worries about availability of tests, and if travelers will have access to free testing even without symptoms.
“The impact will depend on how readily available and what the cost of the rapid tests may be,” said Mandt.
But in Thief River Falls, Laura Stengrim, executive director of Visit Thief River Falls, is hopeful that the new requirements — and warmer temperatures — will bring Canadian visitors back to the area.
“We are absolutely thrilled to hear of the testing requirements being a little bit less stringent and going to rapid testing versus the PRC tests,” she said.
Historically, Canadians have been one of the largest groups of visitors to Thief River Falls, said Stengrim, and pre-pandemic, Canadian traffic to the area picked up in the spring and summer. Canadians often choose Thief River Falls as a destination for long weekends, and come to shop at Walmart, go camping and gamble at nearby Seven Clans Casino.
“These changes in the testing requirements are really coming at the perfect time,” said Stengrim.