GRAND PORTAGE, Minnesota — The news that the U.S. will open its land border to vaccinated Canadians next month is receiving an enthusiastic welcome from business operators in northern Minnesota.
At the Grand Portage port of entry, south of Thunder Bay, Ryden's Border Store has seen up to a 90 per cent drop in traffic because of the loss of its Canadian clientele for more than a year and a half.
"Yay!" was owner Lori Ryden-Boomer's initial succinct response to the Wednesday morning announcement.
"It's a huge relief, the weight has been lifted," Boomer added in an interview.
She's looking forward to bringing her staffing back to normal, saying the ones she has been able to keep on have worked only minimal hours since the border was closed.
Boomer expressed frustration with the length of the closure.
"It took way too long...That's what we never understood. Because, one, Canadians could fly to the U.S. the whole time. What sense does that make ? And two...we're playing by the rules up here. More Canadians are vaccinated probably than we are. So it should have happened a long time ago."
At the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, marketing director Todd Ford said "everybody was thrilled to wake up to the wonderful news this morning."
Ford said the border closure has had a significant impact on the casino, "as it has had on many businesses on both sides of the border," so "November can't come soon enough."
A number of Canadians work at the lodge and casino.
Some have been able to cross the border as essential workers, Ford said, but reopening the border will now allow others to return to their jobs.
He said enhanced COVID-19 protocols that were implemented when the pandemic began will remain in place
Boomer said reopening the border in November will provide "a bit of a Christmas bump" for Ryden's Border Store.
But Canada's current requirement for northbound travellers to have a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours could pose a "a little bit of a hurdle," she said.
Boomer noted that Thunder Bay-area residents can get a test in the city before heading south, after which they have 72 hours to pick up their parcels, visit the Grand Portage Casino, or even travel to Duluth.
If they haven't been tested, however, "That's where the mess is going to come if they get turned away and sent back to US Customs. I think there will be some things to figure out for awhile."
COVID-19 tests are provided free in Ontario only to individuals meeting specific guidelines, including those experiencing symptoms of the virus or who have been exposed to an infected person.
To enter the country or re-enter the country, Canada requires proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test, not a rapid antigen test.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that Canada and the U.S. are working together on the specifics, including the precise reopening date.
It wasn't immediately clear if Canadians who received mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be considered fully vaccinated by the U.S.
Minnesota's Cook County, which includes the town of Grand Marais, issued a statement welcoming the border reopening plan.
"We have been waiting for this announcement for 19 months," said Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County.
Jurek said the country is excited to not only welcome friends and neighbours back, but also to show them the newly-finished Highway 61 corridor through downtown Grand Marais.
The project includes a new eight-kilometre bike path connecting the town to Cutface Creek.
NOTE: A previous version of this story has been updated to include a statement from Cook County