EDITORIAL: US border will soon be open to vaccinated travelers. But why did it take so long?

·4 min read

Oct. 14—The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

The Biden administration announced this week that it will allow vaccinated travelers to enter the U.S. at land border crossings beginning early next month. This aligns with a policy change, announced last month, that vaccinated travelers would be allowed to fly into the U.S. starting in November.

The change is welcome, but we still wonder what took so long.

The Canadian government began allowing vaccinated travelers who showed proof of a recent negative test for COVID-19 to cross the U.S. border into the country on Aug. 9.

Gov. Janet Mills, the state's congressional delegation, along with this editorial board, pushed for an explanation for why the U.S. would not follow Canada's lead. Then, with last month's announcement that many international travelers, with proof of a vaccination and a recent negative COVID test, would soon be allowed to fly into the U.S., we asked why there were different rules for people arriving by plane than for those arriving by vehicle. What, we all wondered, was the scientific justification for continuing to bar vaccinated travelers from driving across the border, especially from Canada, which has a higher inoculation rate against COVID-19 than the U.S.

"If travelers can show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and a negative COVID test at the airport, they can do the same at a land border crossing station," we wrote last week.

The news that U.S. land border stations will soon allow vaccinated travelers into the U.S. is welcome news, but the Biden administration gave few details about the reasons behind the policy change. There is no testing requirement in the administration's plan for land border entry.

We are left to suspect that the delay has a lot to do with the politics of opening the borders between the U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico at the same time. We could be wrong, but this is our best guess. The borders with Canada and Mexico were closed to non-essential travel in March 2020 as the COVID pandemic worsened.

"Today's long-overdue announcement is fantastic news for Mainers who have deeply missed having their Canadian relatives at holiday celebrations, family functions, and other milestone events," Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement on Wednesday.

"This is also a welcome development for Maine small businesses that have suffered significant revenue losses without Canadian customers, and it will provide a boost to Maine's hard-hit hospitality industry, which has been harmed by the absence of Canadian tourists," she added.

Both she and Sen. Angus King long pushed the administration to re-open the border with Canada and sought answers to why it was taking so long.

"It's good to see the White House creating a consistency in travel policy, allowing vaccinated Canadians to drive across the northern border weeks after as we began allowing vaccinated Europeans to visit the U.S. via air," King said in a statement on Wednesday. "Bottom line: this action by the White House will reconnect friends and families, and help stabilize local economies that rely on cross-border neighbors for business — a welcome action, especially as the holiday season approaches."

U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden had also urged the Department of Homeland Security to safely reopen the border.

"After 19 long months, Canadians will finally be welcomed to the U.S. in [a] way that's safe for both countries," Pingree said Wednesday in a statement.

"Reopening the border to fully vaccinated tourists and travelers is a critical step forward in our economic recovery from the pandemic," she added.

"This is great news for small businesses and families across our border communities in Maine," Golden said in a tweet. "My colleagues and I in the Maine delegation have been pushing for changes like this for months now and I'm glad to see the administration finally take action."

Mills also welcomed the announcement, which she called a "long overdue step forward."

"For too long, the closed border with our Canadian neighbors has made it difficult, if not impossible, for cross-border families to see one another, and it has strained our local small businesses and our state's tourism industry," Mills said in a statement. "I applaud the administration for ... reopening the border with Canada in a safe way."

We'll reiterate — this is good news. But, we're still looking for the scientific and public health rationales, which were once again missing from the administration's latest announcement, to help explain why this policy change took so long.

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