By The Herald Editorial Board
If you thought Gov. Jay Inslee — who has said that Washington state won’t fully roll back its pandemic restrictions until either (a) June 30 or (b) 70 percent of those 16 and older in the state have received at least one dose of covid vaccine — was being overly cautious, meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian government — with the agreement of the U.S. government — announced this week that travel restrictions for the U.S.-Canadian border would be extended and remain in place until at least July 21. Only essential cross-border travel is allowed. Canada made one notable, if limited, exception: Canadian citizens and permanent residents in the U.S. can return to Canada — without having to be tested and quarantined for up to 14 days — as long as they can show proof of full immunization.
The travel restrictions’ extension is more than an inconvenience for many in communities on both sides of the 5,525-mile border, but is especially confining and demoralizing for the Washington state town of Point Roberts, a six-square-mile protuberance of land below the 49th parallel that can be reached only by boat or by crossing the border into British Columbia.
With a full-time population of about 900, which during normal summers can swell to about 5,000, Point Roberts and its community of American citizens and Canadian part-time residents, has been shut off from British Columbia markets, banks, doctor’s offices and other commerce for more than 15 months. And the owners of Point Roberts’ lone grocery store have said that may have to shut down by July 15, because of the loss of summer business, if restrictions are not eased.
Even if broader restrictions are to remain, the case has been made by many that some exception can and should be made for Point Roberts, reports The Spokesman-Review and others. Inslee has written the U.S. secretaries of state and homeland security asking that the community’s needs be prioritized. Members of the state’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, have sent a letter to President Biden, seeking consideration of the U.S. enclave’s plight.
DelBene called on both U.S. and Canadian governments to come to an agrement to quickly and safely reopen the border.
“Extending the border closure month by month with a few days’ notice is devastating local businesses and livelihoods and preventing border communities from building back from this crisis,” the 1st Congressional District Democrat said Monday on Facebook. “People living on both sides deserve more transparency and predictability.”
It’s not as if Point Roberts hasn’t done what’s expected to limit the spread of coronavirus. Of its 900 current residents, about 750 have received at least one dose of a covid vaccine, an 83 percent rate of at least partial vaccination that compares very well against the of 67 percent vaccination rates in both Washington state and British Columbia.
There is one notable difference between Washington and British Columbia’s vaccination numbers. While similar percentages have received at least one dose, Washington state has a higher percentage of those fully vaccinated: about 52 percent to B.C.’s lagging 16 percent fully vaccinated.
Before considering a further easing of restrictions after July 21, Trudeau announced vaccination targets of at least one dose for 75 percent of the population and 20 percent fully vaccinated. And Trudeau has cautioned that even full vaccination doesn’t provide a complete guarantee that an individual can’t contract and pass on covid-19.
Both points might be what’s behind the additional caution shown by Trudeau and Canadian health officials, but it doesn’t explain the distinction that our northern neighbors are making between vaccinated Canadians and Americans.
“What’s the difference between fully vaccinated Canadians and fully vaccinated Americans?” Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Canada America Business Council, told the CBC. “It’s frustrating, not only to Americans but to Canadian businesses that we work with on a daily basis. We need to get back into a place where we’re able to do business in a safe way, and Canada is, for reasons that are really puzzling to us, quite reluctant.”
Likewise, Trudeau’s concern for “breakthrough” infections for those who are vaccinated also appears overly cautious.
As of April 30, more than 101 million Americans were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those 101 million, 10,262 breakthrough cases were reported. While the CDC admits the number of breakthrough infections is an under-count, the likelihood of risk of covid-19 to those fully vaccinated is measured in fractions of a fraction.
The caution and appeals to “follow the science” and the data throughout the pandemic, observed by leaders such as Inslee and Trudeau, have largely proved to be the correct call and have been responsible for saving thousands of lives. But measuring the risk that remains against the continued economic and community harm of restrictions — especially for places like Point Roberts — calls for a reexamination of that scale.
Canadians and Americans can follow the science and recognize its triumph over covid-19 by opening the border — in both directions — to all who are fully vaccinated.