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Canada eases border restrictions; crossing still far from easy for some

The International Bridge connects Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, with Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
Wikimedia Commons

Vaccinated travelers to Canada won’t need a negative PCR test to cross the border anymore.

As of Monday, the Canadian government now accepts negative antigen tests as well.

The International Bridge linking Sault Ste Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste Marie, Ontario is the only place within 300 miles to drive between the two countries. And those crossings have dramatically decreased during the pandemic—they’re down 86 percent from 2019.

Satellite image of the St. Mary's River, separating U.S. and Canada.
Satellite image of the St. Mary's River, separating U.S. and Canada.

In normal times, it’s common for residents of the Twin Soos to cross the bridge to visit friends and family- or just catch a movie and grab a meal.

Businesses on both sides have felt the impact of fewer crossings in a now-divided border community.

“From an economics perspective, it really is a benefit to both of our communities to start to see the border free up,” said Rory Ring, CEO of the Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Chamber of Commerce.

“We anticipate and certainly hope that the border will be open with no testing by mid to late spring,” said Ring.

Antigen tests are cheaper and more widely available than PCR tests. But antigen test results are only valid within 24 hours of crossing the border.

For some residents of Sault Ste Marie, that’s hard to coordinate.

“It’s not good for people in my situation,” said Patricia Jones. Jones lives in Michigan, but is the primary caregiver for her mother, across the bridge.

Jones says she’s been getting PCR tests twice a week since June. Those tests are valid for longer—72 hours. Jones would gladly pay less for antigen tests, but says the 24-hour time limit is too short when it comes to caring for her mother in an emergency.

“If she has to be taken to the hospital, I need to be able to get across to assist her,” Jones said. “So for me, I’m going to continue to pay, and go with the PCR.”

Jones says being vaccinated and boosted should be enough to cross the border.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.