The wait is over: Windsor, Ont.-Michigan residents reunited as U.S. border reopens

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Lauren Hedges of Windsor, Ont., and her boyfriend Phil were reunited on Nov. 8, after the U.S. border reopened to Canadian non-essential travellers. (Courtesy Lauren Hedges - image credit)
Lauren Hedges of Windsor, Ont., and her boyfriend Phil were reunited on Nov. 8, after the U.S. border reopened to Canadian non-essential travellers. (Courtesy Lauren Hedges - image credit)

Lauren Hedges can see the United States from her street in Windsor, Ont., but hasn't been able to visit since the border closed over a year and a half ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Being so, so, so close is great in normal times, but extra painful in pandemic times," Hedges said.

She was among Canadians taking the first opportunity to head across the border into the U.S. as it reopened to non-essential, fully vaccinated visitors on Monday — and she isn't coming back for a month.

Hedges is visiting her boyfriend Phil in Harrison Township, Mich. During the pandemic, the cross-border couple has had some opportunity to see each other after he was granted an exemption, and especially since Canada opened its border to U.S. travellers in August.

But their time apart has been difficult, Hedges said. She's looking forward to seeing friends and her boyfriend's family, and doing all the Detroit things she missed.

"Pre-pandemic, I crossed once a week, he crossed once a week," she said. "We were together all the time, always doing stuff on both sides of the border, so to just all of a sudden have that gone was awful, especially at a time when the world is going crazy, and everybody's stressed out all the time and we're separated and trying to comfort each other."

Many more reunions are expected in the coming days and weeks as the land border reopens following an unprecedented closure that begin in spring 2020. Now, in order to enter the U.S., travellers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

When CBC News reporter Chris Ensing crossed over on Monday using the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, the process was quick, and those on the front lines said there wasn't much more traffic than usual.

Negative test needed to return to Canada

But driving across the Detroit River for a show or a sports game won't be as easy as it used to be.

Travellers must now show a negative COVID-19 molecular test such as a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that was taken within 72 hours before crossing back into Canada. Among those lobbying against the requirement is Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

Dilkens and other border city mayors, as well as U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins, have united to call on Ottawa to lift the testing rule.

During a news conference Monday morning, Dilkens called the need for a PCR test to get into Canada "unreasonable and costly."

"This PCR test requirement is a hard stop barrier for families to reunite except for the wealthiest of Canadians, and that is unfair," he said.

Snowbirds cancelled trip

Despite Monday's land border reopening, not everyone is flocking stateside just yet.

Before the pandemic, Ken Lemire and his wife Evelyn spent their winters in the Florida panhandle. This year, they had a reservation for accommodations but had to decide whether to keep it at a time when the border wasn't yet open, so they chose to cancel it.

He said it was a difficult decision.

"We've been going for 26 years and we're just not sure if we want to stay home, but with everything going on, we had to decide."

Florida's COVID-19 new-case count has dropped significantly over the past 10 weeks, from 129,664 the week of Aug. 27, to 11,069 the week of Oct. 29.

But Lemire cited the COVID-19 situation in the state — along with a lack of public health measures in place — as reasons for making staying home in Canada for now a little easier.

He said they might go down in February, depending on the situation at that time, for a shorter visit.

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