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State Assemblyman Suggests Vaccinating Essential Canadian Travelers While Visiting New York State

Assemblyman D. Billy Jones talks about plan to vaccinate Canadian essential travelers
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones talks about plan to vaccinate Canadian essential travelers

As communities near the U.S.-Canada border brace for its closure to be extended another month, business and tourism officials are intensifying calls for a plan to reopen the international frontier. A New York state assemblyman is offering an idea that regional officials hope will help alleviate some of the negative impacts of the closure, which has stretched for more than a year.
In March 2020 the U.S-Canada border closed, extended monthly since.  Only essential travelers such as truck drivers and medical personnel have been allowed to cross.

Garry Douglas with the North Country Chamber says those on the U.S. side continue to be perplexed by those, especially in the highest levels in Canadian government, who are reticent to craft a reopening plan.   “We’ve got to keep repeating  this important message that it is past time to plan. Let’s start the planning. We have been putting out there for many months asking for at least a serious bi-national consideration of some modest but important adjustments to the existing definitions of essential and for some additional support for business people.”

Douglas said there is one word that should be at the forefront of building a flexible border reopening plan: vaccination.   “We need to get both countries to point where those vaccination numbers are higher than they are now. We’re doing well in the U.S. We’re doing well in New York. But it still needs to be higher. On the other side of the border they’re way behind us.”

To try to rectify the cross border stalemate, Democratic state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones of the 115th district wants to implement a plan that is being successfully undertaken in other border states.  “There are other states right now, North Dakota one in particular Michigan, that are taking steps to help get essential workers and essential travelers into the United States vaccinated from Canada. The CDC has already said that this is allowable to vaccinate essential workers from Canada. We can do it. We have the supply now. We’ve done an excellent job here in the North Country and in New York state as a whole in getting that vaccination rollout. I’m calling on New York state to give us permission to get essential workers from Canada vaccinated here.”

Logistically the plan from Douglas and Jones would initially target Canadian truckers for vaccinations.  “We need to catch this where the trucks are moving. So it’s going to have to be somewhere on I-87; in western New York probably at the Peace Bridge; maybe in the St. Lawrence area if we get this going maybe at Alex Bay (Alexandria Bay). The places where the large volumes of trucks are moving and don’t have to get off the highway and go some long distance to stop. Otherwise they won’t do it.”
Assemblyman Jones: “We want to get permission from New York state to do this. And we are coming up with some very good concrete plans. We’ve initially talked to the state. I have written letters. I have we have talked DOH and it’s going to be hard for them to say no on this. We want to start out with the truck drivers, the essential workers. But we can go beyond essential workers and get into essential travelers as well.”

So who are the essential travelers? Plattsburgh RV park owner Neil Fesette has seen a drop of 75 percent of his seasonal Canadian visitation.  “I fully agree that there is a need for a plan to get this border opened. I am a big advocate for also considering vaccinating our friends from Canada here in Plattsburgh. They’re essential. They’re essential to our economy. And we feel as though for campgrounds, property owners, people that have second homes and the marinas those are all situations where you can easily social distance. There’s a lot of space. We feel as though there’s a very safe way to allow these essential travelers back into the United States. You know the border frankly it just cannot open soon enough.”

A request for information from the New York Department of Health on current protocols for vaccinating essential Canadian travelers in New York state was not returned.