BISMARCK — All North Dakotans who made it through the last year have experienced pandemic-induced disruptions to everyday life, but those residing along the Canadian border have a unique and enduring obstruction.
When the border closed to nearly all nonessential travel in March 2020, residents of cities like Pembina, Rolla and Langdon lost access to beloved Canadian fishing holes, grocery stores and pizza parlors as once-regular trips to the Great White North were abruptly banned.
Fifteen months later, border crossings remain mostly restricted to truck drivers and others with business on the other side, but rumblings about an imminent reopening have generated excitement along the 310-mile boundary between North Dakota and Canada.
Some had hoped the resumption of international travel would go ahead this month, but officials said Friday, June 18, the border restrictions have been prolonged until July 21 as Canada works to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates, according to the Associated Press. Details of the potential reopening have yet to be announced, but observers, including North Dakota immunization manager Molly Howell, believe there's a strong possibility Canada will require Americans to be fully vaccinated as a condition of entry into the country.
The widespread speculation about a likely COVID-19 vaccine prerequisite has prompted some border-adjacent North Dakotans to seek out the jab even as vaccination rates across the state have leveled off mostly due to hesitancy surrounding the shot.
Renae Henderson, a nurse with the Rolette County Public Health District, said her agency vaccinated about 20 locals in the last two weeks who noted they chose to get the shot in hopes of soon traveling up north. Henderson said most of those who came for the vaccine with a desire to cross the border were men ages 30 to 50 who previously expressed reluctance toward the jab but enjoy fishing and other recreational activities in Canada.
Henderson noted she got her haircuts in Canada before the pandemic and most residents like to cross the border at least two or three times a month to go shopping or pick up some of the area's best Chinese food, so the idea of a Canadian vaccine requirement acts as "a carrot dangling" in front of her community.
Steph Welsh, the director of nurses at Cavalier County Health District, said she has seen a few residents coming in who got the shot with a goal to cross the border in the near future. She added that some residents have family and friends in Canada, and the prospect of reuniting with them has been "a good motivator."
Julie Hardy, the director of Pembina County Public Health, said few people have come in for shots lately, but those who have gave the reason of wanting to go to Canada. She added that the slight uptick in desire for the jab has been spurred by locals with lake homes in Ontario who want to enjoy vacations once border restrictions are lifted.
Howell said a potential Canadian vaccine requirement would likely increase willingness to get the shot among some vaccine holdouts who live along the border. She said she expects the boundary to open up some time this summer.