What It's Like To Cross The US-Canadian Border During A Global Pandemic

Illustration for article titled What Its Like To Cross The US-Canadian Border During A Global Pandemic
Photo: Sandy Huffaker (Getty Images)

The US-Canadian border is technically closed to all non-essential traffic until at least September 21, 2020—although there’s a good chance it’s going to be extended through the end of the year. With my spouse being a Canadian resident that resides in Canada, there’s a clause that allows me to cross. Here’s what it’s like to cross into another country in the middle of a pandemic.

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Gone are the days when you could show up to the border accidentally having forgotten your passport (it happened to me, and while border patrol didn’t exactly like it, they still let me through). This time, as I reached Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo, New York to Fort Erie, Ontario, there was a police officer sitting at the entrance to the bridge to ask what my purpose was before allowing me to cross.

I had to arrive prepared. When I reached the first border agent, I needed to present my passport, a copy of the photo page of my husband’s passport, and our marriage license in order to prove my connection to a Canadian citizen. To make things easier, I also arrived with the results of a COVID-19 test that I had taken prior to leaving to prove that I had, at the very least, started my journey out uninfected. It turns out that it would also have been much simpler to have also acquired written consent from my husband and his family regarding my stay.

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That first agent asked me a lot of the standard questions about my purpose in crossing, how long I’d be staying, and what I was crossing with. I also fielded questions about my recent health concerns: if I had a fever, cough, lack of taste or smell, or allergy-like symptoms. We talked about my quarantine plan for about 20 minutes, and then she directed me to a parking area for further questioning.

At the parking area, I was asked to remain in the car and speak to a second border agent. This second agent asked me the same round of questions about my quarantine plan. He took my information to an office and corroborated its validity. Then he returned and let me know that there were still some questions about my quarantine plan, so they would send some health officials to come speak to me.

In Canada, there’s a mandatory 14-day quarantine period that all travelers must undergo, and the border agents need you to be thorough. They want to know who is in your house, where those people will be staying, and how old they are. They want to know what your plans are regarding food, water, and using the bathroom. They want to know, roughly, the size and layout of your house to ensure that your quarantine space won’t overlap with anyone else’s living space. They even want to know what you’re going to be doing to entertain yourself.

My husband lives with his family because he helps run their business, so I not only needed to discuss where my husband would be staying, but also his parents. His elderly, cancer-surviving grandmother also lives in the same house, and that was a pretty big sticking point. I think it was probably what brought out an entire squad of health officials.

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The health officials checked my temperature twice and went through my health history with me. Then we went through the health history of every single person in the household to determine their level of risk. Again, my husband’s grandmother posed the highest level of risk. She’s in her 80s and has pretty much no immune system left.

They were comforted by the fact his grandma had her own recently-built mother-in-law suite on the side of the house. The builders were asked to design the living space to her needs, so she already has her own HVAC system to prevent circulating any otherwise contaminated air during flu or cold seasons. She has her own bathroom, kitchen, and living space, and my quarantine is also a quarantine for her too in that she’s just going to be hanging out on her own there.

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That said, the health officials still asked if they could call her and speak to her about my travels, tell her the risks, talk to her about her quarantine plans, and get her consent for my arrival. (Apparently she was very chatty and excited; the officials were charmed.)

The officials were also comforted by the fact that my husband had established a quarantine routine previously. He had initially quarantined with me and my family down in Texas, then returned home in May after his family’s business was deemed essential. Back then, he had settled a pretty good routine where he was given full access to one bathroom along with his bedroom downstairs in the basement. His mom stocked the room with snacks, and she’d leave him dinner at the top of the stairs. My husband wore masks everywhere he went, and he had his own personal Lysol to spray on everything he touched outside of his room. I was basically just going to be replacing my husband in the situation, and he’d be moving to a spare room upstairs.

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I had to provide my husband’s address, my email address, and my phone number. The officials let me know they’d be calling me and checking in on how my quarantine was going. They also noted that, since I was coming from Texas, it was likely that an officer would drive by to make sure that my car hadn’t moved and possibly even ask to see the interior of the house. They provided me a sheet of information about how to quarantine and who to call if I needed medical assistance or just some help getting food or medication.

With a note that they’d prefer I not stop until I got to my husband’s house (but, if I had to, to only pay for gas at the pump and to only order food via drive through), they sent me on my way.

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I arrived on Monday. So far, I’ve received an email from the Ontario health department and also a phone call to talk about my quarantine. I’ve felt physically fine, and I’ve been taking advantage of this time to catch up on renovating my Animal Crossing town. My quarantine officially ends on September 8, and, if my husband’s precedent is anything to go by, I’ll likely receive more emails and more phone calls until I’m given permission to venture out into the public. Although, at this point, the main thing I’m looking forward to about the end of my two weeks is having a chance to drink outside in the 70 degree weather with my sister-in-law.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Freelancer. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

SlowpokeTexas
SlowpokeTexas

Wow, that is quite a story. I was once married to a Canadian as well, and it was shocking at times to see the differences in the level of PITA different agents could impose. I never emigrated to Canada but on one occasion when I was on a long-term contract with a company there, I arrived in Pearson on a Friday to spend Easter weekend with my wife’s family, and despite showing my work permit, a particularly grumpy agent decided to reject my entry. I followed up with a supervisor, showed him my valid passport and valid work permit, and he was puzzled why the other agent didn’t let me in. I guess she just had a bug up her ass. When dealing with big fish in small ponds, you sometimes run into that.