Windsor·Video

More restrictions needed at Canada-U.S. border, total closure still risky, say MPs

Liberal Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk says all possible options are being considered when it comes to addressing concerns about travel between Canada and the U.S., including restricting travel for health-care employees like nurses, as a means of preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

'All options are on the table,' says Irek Kusmiercyzk

A sign showing travel restrictions sits at the port entrance to the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the international border crossing, which connects with Windsor, Ontario, in Detroit, Mich. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Liberal Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk says all possible options are being considered when it comes to addressing concerns about travel between Canada and the U.S., including restricting travel for health-care employees like nurses, as a means of preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

Though further restrictions are being considered, Kusmierczyk said it's not difficult to imagine a situation where such an action could seriously harm Detroit's health-care system, citing approximately 1,600 cross-border health-care workers who live in Windsor, but provide care to residents of Detroit, Mich.

Were steps taken to further restrict travel across the border, Kusmierczyk added there would also be "severe" repercussions for Windsor-Essex's own health-care system. 

"Because our two cross-border communities are so integrated, our own health-care system in Windsor-Essex would be compromised and I would say crippled, because many of our emergency room physicians and technicians are also cross-border," he said. "Some of them, we would lose them to Detroit — they would not be able to work here in Windsor."

Kusmierczyk's comments come in the wake of a Facebook post he published on Sunday, calling on the federal government to institute additional measures to protect residents and communities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. 

In his post, Kusmiercyzk said he also collected and shared letters penned by NDP Windsor West MP Brian Masse, Conservative Essex MP Chris Lewis and Conservative Chatham-Kent—Leamington MP Dave Epp, who also requested that the federal government maintain existing border restrictions, while calling for special accommodations for health-care employees should they become necessary, as well as calling for additional measures to protect health-care employees in Canada and the U.S.

Speaking with CBC News, Masse said current restrictions in place — which bar all non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S., but make provisions for people like health-care workers and truck drivers — "are not meeting the current needs without the proper support."

... We need to make sure that those workers are supported properly.- Brian Masse, NDP MP, Windsor West

He said measures like temperature screenings and longer questionnaires are some steps that aren't required at the border right now, but that could nonetheless serve to ensure greater health and safety at a later time. 

"What I've called for is a review of our current process, because I don't think it's sufficient just to have in place right now," he said. "It's not going to be the same this week or even next week, in Detroit, so we need to make sure that those workers are supported properly."

As of Monday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) has confirmed 44 positive cases of COVID-19 across the region. WECHU is also aware in Michigan of 5,486 confirmed cases — 1,542 of which are in the Detroit area. Approximately 130 people have died from COVID-19 in Michigan. 

In his Facebook post, Kusmierczyk confirmed that he'd spoken on March 23 with WECHU medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed about potentially closing the border, stating the Ahmed and his team recommended closing the border to essential workers, including nurses.

In an email sent on Monday, a WECHU spokesperson said Ahmed would address "comments regarding the border" during the public health unit's daily COVID-19 briefing, on Tuesday. 

Despite concerns, Masse said he didn't support closing the border between Canada and the U.S., adding that doing so would disrupt both countries' supply chains.

"Our supply chain, including health-care workers, are part of what's necessary for us to function as a democracy and a society," he said. "We would be closed to food, medicine and a number of different important supports."

... We want to make sure that our primary purpose is protecting our communities ...- Irek Kusmierczyk, Liberal MP, Windsor-Tecumseh

Masse said the country needs a "proper border plan to deal with a variety of changes in the circumstances."

He said he wouldn't speculate about a change in circumstances that would encourage him to support closing the border. 

For his part, Kusmiercyzk reiterated that the federal government is considering all possible options. 

"All options are on the table, all options are being looked at," said Kusmierczyk. "I think it's important to note as well that we want to make sure that our primary purpose is protecting our communities, protecting our front-line staff, and we want to make sure that we know what the impact of those decisions are going to be."

'Constantly evaluating the situation,' says Public Safety Canada

A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada said the federal government's previous decision to restrict travel between the Canada-U.S. border "have not been made lightly," adding that the decisions were made in order to keep Canadians safe. 

"We are constantly evaluating the situation and considering next steps," wrote Mary-Liz Power, press secretary with the Public Safety Minister's office, in an email. "Our government will continue to work with health authorities, border officials, provincial and territorial counterparts, municipalities, and our international partners to do what's best for Canadians."

Power said that the existing restriction on non-essential travel will not affect supply chains between both countries.

"Our government has no greater responsibility than to keep our citizens safe," she wrote.

Cross-border nurse looking at new housing options to protect community

While government officials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border continue to respond to concerns over COVID-19, a nurse who lives in Amherstburg, Ont. and works at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit said she's already taking steps to protect members of her community — including her parents, who are in their 50s. 

Jenna Meloche said she's been changing in the garage, using a separate bathroom and even wearing personal protective equipment when using common areas in her home. 

Watch a Canadian nurse working in a Detroit hospital describe her experiences treating COVID-19:

Jenna Meloche lives in Amherstburg and works in Detroit where the number of COVID-19 deaths is rising. 2:05

Meloche said she's even looking at other housing options.

"That is also something important for people to know because if we're doing this, this is a serious situation and I will do everything I can to protect my family and my friends and so should everyone else."

With files from Chris Ensing