Point Roberts residents virtually cut off amid U.S.-Canada travel ban

This story was updated on Saturday, March 21, with new information from the Canadian Border Services Agency regarding travel for work or other essential purposes across the Canada-U.S. border.

Point Roberts, Wash., is a uniquely situated isthmus, surrounded by water on three sides, with the only entry and exit point being a Canada-U.S. land border.

The community sits on a tiny peninsula about 35 kilometres south of Vancouver just below the 49th parallel, completely separated from the rest of the U.S.

But with borders set to close to non-essential traffic over COVID-19 concerns as of midnight Friday, many in Point Roberts wonder how their lives will change.

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Scott Elliston is the assistant manager at TSB Shipping, a small building with a busy parking lot often full of Canadians picking up online purchases.

He says he will lose 99 per cent of his business because of the new travel restrictions.

For Fire Chief Christoper Carleton, how the pending change might affect him was unclear as of Friday. 

Point Roberts has relied on volunteer first responders from B.C. to provide additional support for fire and emergency rescue services for the community's elderly population for decades. 

"I have 28 Canadian nationals who are legally allowed to come through customs and border protection and volunteer for my agency," Carleton said. 

But all that was put into question on March 13 when a letter from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to health-care workers, inadvertently excluded those volunteers from entering the U.S., Carleton says.

The notice to B.C. health-care workers recommended against non-essential travel outside of Canada and if they do leave the country they are asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The requirement, however, does not apply to physicians, nurses and care aides who provide direct patient care.

But on Saturday, the Canadian Border Services agency clarified that border crossings for "essential for work and daily life" will be permitted, as long as individuals are healthy and non-symptomatic. 

Carleton wants his Canadian volunteers to be formally included in the exemptions.

On March 18, Carleton asked Health Minister Adrian Dix and Henry for "a correction to ensure that this vital pathway for mutual support is not unnecessarily impeded." He says he has not received a response thus far.