COVID-19 test requirement to re-enter Canada draws frustration as U.S. land border reopens

Canadians can now travel into the United States for non-essential reasons using land border crossings, but are required to take a COVID-19 test in order to return, which can cost up to $330 at some pharmacies.

'I thought it's one of the stupidest things I've heard,' said Windsorite Doug Ritchie

Land border crossings between Canada and the U.S. re-open Monday November 8, including the Ambassador Bridge. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Canadians can now travel into the United States for non-essential reasons using land border crossings, but are required to take a COVID-19 test in order to return, which can cost up to $330 at some pharmacies.

Canadians are able to use a negative COVID-19 test result received up to 72 hours prior to the expected re-entry into this country.

Doug Ritchie of Tilbury, Ont., just outside of Windsor, said he plans on crossing Monday to pick up boat and car parts he ordered online and shipped to a U.S. address. The items have been sitting there for a year-and-a-half because the borders have been closed up until this point.

Ritchie said he doesn't agree with the testing requirement to get back into Canada.

"I thought it's one of the stupidest things I've heard the government doing," said Ritchie.

In preparation for his trip the day the land border crossing fully re-opens, he went to a pharmacy in Chatham-Kent on Friday for a PCR test, which came back negative. It cost Ritchie $330.

"It's just totally ridiculous," he said. "I could go over there, get infected with COVID, come back here and present my test that I had on Friday and waltz right into Canada. To me that's just stupid."

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) requires anyone coming into the country to "take a COVID-19 molecular test up to 72 hours before you arrive."

"Antigen tests, often called rapid tests, are not accepted," the CBSA said.

A traffic sign is seen at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont., on Saturday, March 21, 2020. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Those aged 18 and older also need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to cross the border. Younger travellers are exempt from the requirement.

U.S. border officers won't require a negative COVID-19 test for anyone entering, but will ask travellers in the vehicle about their vaccination status. Proof will only be required upon request.

Many pharmacies don't offer the required PCR test, including some Shoppers Drug Marts and Rexall pharmacies contacted by CBC News.

"It's confusing and it seems that it may not be the most accurate way to determine whether or not someone is truly at risk," said Dr. Stephen Bartol, referencing Canada's requirement for a PCR test to enter the country.

Bartol said a rapid antigen test is a better option in many ways. It's something people can easily do themselves, much less expensive and tells the person whether they're infectious or contagious at that moment. He said it's about 98 per cent accurate.

Dr. Stephen Bartol is the chief medical officer of Audacia Bioscience. (Jason Viau/CBC)

His company, Audacia Bioscience, provides different types of COVID-19 testing for travellers.

Starting Monday, they plan to offer Windsorites a testing option in Michigan with fast or same-day results. It'll cost $75 US for a PCR test and you'll get the results emailed to you that day. Or, for $150 US you can get those results in 30 minutes.

The company has set up testing locations near the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and at its lab in Plymouth.

Free U.S. tests not for most Canadians, Bartol says

In the U.S., residents have access to PCR tests for free at many pharmacies, which is paid for by the federal government. Bartol said he's already heard people talking about crossing the border with the idea of getting a free U.S. COVID-19 test, but he cautions against it.

"I think that trying to access the free testing may put you at risk of being charged with insurance fraud. So quite frankly I don't think it's worth the risk," he said.

Many U.S. pharmacy websites boast about a $0 out-of-pocket cost for people with insurance or the federal program kicks in for American citizens who are uninsured.

As the land border crossings open Monday between Canada and the U.S., Bartol expects more people will cross to visit family they haven't seen in a while. But he doesn't think it'll be a deluge.

"I don't think we'll see a stampede," he said.


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