US keeps ban on nonessential border crossings to slow COVID despite pleas from Detroit, border cities

Associated Press

Washington — The U.S. government on Friday extended a ban on nonessential travel along the borders with Canada and Mexico to slow the spread of COVID-19 despite increasing pressure to lift the restriction from business leaders in cities along the border including Detroit.

Traffic is backed up on the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Friday, August 6, 2021.

The continued closure is frustrating to the business communities in Detroit and other border cities, said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Last week, a coalition of business chambers, including Detroit's, wrote a letter to President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking them to reopen the borders to non-essential crossings.

The chamber leaders asked federal officials to at least allow vaccinated Canadian travelers to access the U.S., a policy that would be similar to Canada’s, which allows vaccinated Americans to enter for non-essential travel. They also asked the U.S. officials to work with Canadians on a bilateral border crossing plan.

Not doing so "would lack scientific justification and would further exacerbate the economic and cultural damage done by the closure," they wrote.

But the Department of Homeland Security said in a tweet Friday that the restrictions on nonessential travel were still needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant. It extended the ban until at least Sept. 21. 

DHS said it is working with public health and medical experts to determine how to "safely and sustainably resume normal travel."

The travel restrictions have been in place since early in the pandemic in March 2020 and repeatedly extended while allowing commercial traffic and essential crossings to continue.

Jack Cooper Transport Co. LLC delivers some Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. vehicles over the border, but the company hasn’t had problems with the U.S. restrictions, said Craig Irwin, president of the company that employees about 3,000 people.

"I don't believe it's slowed down" border crossings, Irwin said. "We are considered essential, so it doesn't impact us too much."

The biggest challenge since restrictions were put in place has actually come from the Canadian side, he said. An executive who lives in Canada in the past had to quarantine for 14 days and work remotely whenever he returned home.

"He's in charge of some U.S. operations in Michigan," Irwin said. "He came over and could move about freely. It was when he was returning."

The country, however, earlier this month did lift the 14-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travelers.

Denying entry to most travelers has obvious impacts on tourism spending in Michigan, Williams said, but it’s a more acute problem for businesses that employ people who work on the other side of the border.

"There are still a number of businesses in metro Detroit who have Canadian employees," he said. "Even at the Chamber, of our 80 employees, three live in Canada."

Williams said it is wrong that Ohio residents have been able to travel freely in and out of Michigan while Ontario residents remain barred.

"As a Michigander that’s a lot more troubling," he said.

Ohio and Michigan have roughly the same COVID-19 vaccination rate — 51% of the total population — according to their state health department data. More than 65% of Ontario residents are vaccinated. 

Detroit News Staff Writers Carol Thompson and Breana Noble contributed.