Coronavirus

COVID Travel Bans Are a Death Sentence for This Remote Border Town

One of America's most isolated communities has struggled to weather the pandemic.

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Point Roberts, Washington, has always been isolated.

Nineteenth-century cartographers are to blame for that. As Great Britain and the United States squabbled over what would become the Canadian border, mappers chose the 49th parallel as the boundary. The whole of Vancouver Island went to the British, but everything else south of the line was to be American.

Cartographers didn't realize that a tiny peninsula jutted into American territory where the 49th parallel crosses Boundary Bay, about as far west as you can get in the lower 48. At just five square miles, the inconveniently American land became Point Roberts. Today the community boasts around 1,200 people, one grocery store, and a glimmering marina filled with boats. Connected by land only to Canada, residents must cross into British Columbia and back into what locals call "the other side" (mainland Washington state) to reach just about everything—doctors, schools, and veterinarians.

Crossing two international borders to travel from one part of your state to another is difficult enough during normal times. During a pandemic, it's impossible.

Point Roberts suddenly found itself cut off from both Canada and the mainland U.S. as officials in the two countries buttoned up their land crossings. Residents were stranded and businesses began to shrivel without the revenue brought by Canadian property-owners and visitors.

"It's been devastation," says Brian Calder, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce. "This time of the year, we would have around 4–5,000 people here. Now we have 800."

A popular summer destination for people in the greater Vancouver area, Point Roberts' economy is driven by Canadians, who own approximately 1,800 of the community's 2,400 homes, according to Calder. Their homes and lawns, now untended for 18 months, have fallen into disrepair. Canadians who long drifted over the border for cheaper gas and parcel pickup have entirely vanished. "Our market is down 90 percent," says Calder. There's no traffic on the peninsula. Parking lots that once held hundreds of cars now contain just a handful.

Relief has evaded Point Roberts. While every border community has suffered due to restrictions on international movement, visitors and revenue from the same country can still generally flow through. Point Roberts survives on business from Canada. Town officials raised $50,000 and offered to buy and operate a testing site at the Canadian border if the White House would grant them an exception to the closure and allow Canadians to enter. They even offered to vaccinate Canadians who own property in Point Roberts.

The community has gone to great lengths to stay safe during the pandemic. Around 85 percent of the population is vaccinated. It didn't even report its first COVID case until February 2021. In spite of the town's diligence and offers to test and vaccinate Canadians at its own expense, proposals have been met with silence from the federal government.

"We're getting a government attitude of 'one-size-fits-all,' and it doesn't—certainly not with Point Roberts," says Calder. "It's totally unique in many ways. We don't have the government giving us a unique solution."

Businesses in Point Roberts are feeling the heat. Ali Hayton is the owner of International Marketplace, the town's sole grocery store. She says it's the only place in Point Roberts where locals can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, or dairy products.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Hayton has continued to operate International Marketplace at a great personal cost. "She's kept it open for 18 months, losing $30,000 a month and supporting the community with no help from the government," says Calder. Hayton was hesitant to accept government aid, explaining that she favored an end to the closure: "We just want our border open. We want our customers back." But as the closure was extended again and again, she contacted state officials for relief. Washington Governor Jay Inslee agreed to send her $100,000 in relief funds. During a normal week in July before the pandemic, Hayton says, she would've had revenue of over $300,000.

"I can't keep subsidizing this," she says. "I just don't understand why either government thought it was the responsibility of a private citizen, a private business owner, to subsidize the needs of all those people for this length of time without offering any assistance." Though the government money was welcome, it was a temporary, limited way of addressing a problem with an obvious solution.

Still, Hayton knows the community needs her grocery store's service. International Marketplace has cut hours but is still open daily. "We didn't wanna close any one day because, you know, we're the only option for everybody on the Point."

Restaurants have been ravaged, serving a fraction of their normal audience. They're "open four hours a day, just on the weekends," explains Calder. The town's marina hosts 180 of its normal 850 boats. Families that have owned homes in the Point for four generations have been barred from visiting for the first time ever, two summers running. American residents have only been able to access the mainland via a passenger ferry to Bellingham, which involves a two-hour journey on the open water each way.

The "plight of the Point," as Calder calls it, may well worsen as the Canadian government opens its border to vaccinated Americans—a move made effective this past Monday. Disconnected from their neighboring communities for a year and a half, residents of Point Roberts are eager to get out of town to shop and eat elsewhere. "Up until now, I've kind of had a captive audience," says Hayton. "I don't begrudge any of them a bit for wanting to get out of the Point and shop elsewhere. But now that they do have that option, I'm watching the bottom line really carefully this week."

The U.S. border could theoretically open to Canadians on August 21, but Hayton has her doubts—both because there is no vaccination verification system in place and because the closure has been extended multiple times. "Canadians want to come down here and spend their money, and we're not letting them," she says. "They could rescue our economy so quickly, if [the U.S. government] would just let them come down."

Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently, but it's united people in tiny Point Roberts. "When something hits the community hard, all pretenses are dropped," Calder says. "They all come together for that, even if they were mad at each other, they overcome that in a dire circumstance."

Life in Point Roberts involves tradeoffs. Locals find the isolation worth the rewards—marvelous beaches on three sides, ample green spaces, and land that still feels like a sleepy holiday community, even as the nearby urban centers in Washington and British Columbia swell.

But many residents of Point Roberts have left the community during the pandemic in search of employment. The already-small population is fading. The unlikely town has an uncertain future.

"None of us ever imagined a situation like this," says Hayton. "It's gonna be hard to imagine how we come out of it."

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  1. Border-worship… The often senseless, insane worship of lines in the sand.

    Fuck Government-Almighty-created border worship! Let it be known… Humans are all ONE species!

    1. Given how badly Canada has behaved during the last 18 months, I’m glad that I’m a citizen of the USA. Britain is even worse than Canada. Trump and Biden aren’t the worst dictators in the world.

      1. Amen, Brophy! Don’t forget Australia… They have gone absolutely bonkers with Covid over-reactions as well. Oh, and New Zealand too! What is WRONG with the English-speaking world, anyway?

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    2. It would seem self evident that if we are to have governments, there would be geographic limits to their authority.

      1. Not to Genghis Khan.

      2. Geographic limits to authority, yes, but checkpoints or more, not necessarily.

        You and your neighbor have geographic limits to authority, and most likely you don’t wander around the other’s property without invitation / permission. You simply acquiesce to each other’s requests when you are on the other’s property.

        Borders (and property lines) that are respected don’t need monitoring. Now, if you start harvesting your neighbor’s tomatoes, or he starts cutting timber on your land, then you might need a bit more.

        Just sayin’

  2. Crossing two international borders to travel from one part of your state to another is difficult enough during normal times. During a pandemic, it’s impossible.

    Justin Trudeau built a wall.

    1. Not impossible, just unauthorized

  3. Rules are rules! Follow the rules!

  4. Key lesson:
    Don’t live in rural shitholes.

    1. Or near you.

      1. Good one!

    2. Live in large cities like New York with high death tolls.

      1. You’re putting words in my mouth!

        Take your nasty, disease ridden, crime infested words out of my mouth

    3. People who live in low population areas may be less open minded, but they tend to be more tolerant just the same. You can despise someone else without great cost if you’re both free to simply avoid the other.

      City people scream for “liberal” (in its current political use, not the original meaning) ideals, but they are the most difficult people to be around, and want a law or rule about everything.

  5. 9/111/6 attacker just released from six months of pretrial detention.

    Bail refor… oh, not THAT kind of bail reform.

    “We conclude that the district court clearly erred in determining that no condition or combination of conditions of release would reasonably assure the safety of the community,” the appeals judges wrote, adding that although Tanios “has not shown that the district court applied a presumption of detention in contravention of the Bail Reform Act and precedent, the district court clearly erred in its individualized assessment of appellant’s dangerousness.”

    The appeals court noted that Tanios “has no past felony convictions, no ties to any extremist organizations, and no post-January 6 criminal behavior that would otherwise show him to pose a danger to the community.”

    Message sent. Now let him free.

    1. …assessment of appellant’s dangerousness.”
      Worse than 9-11

  6. Democrats and left liberaltarians are a death sentence to the US

  7. See!!
    Borders are BAD!

  8. Yeah I read about this town. It is pretty horrible what is happening to them. You’d think that there could be some special dispensation made for them considering their unique situation, but nope.

  9. Let me be the first to point out they have voted Democrat in every Presidential and Congressional election since 1984 (except 2000 POTUS ), so I hope they are happy in getting what they voted for, both Nationally and at the State level (assuming their votes weren’t stolen in the Gregorio Steal of 2004)

  10. It’s hilarious listening to Americans cry about a sovereign nation exercising their right to restrict access of undesirable people coming from the south.

    1. Excellent!

    2. If there is any demographic a nation should work to keep out of their country it would be the obnoxious ignorant fat-ass redneck type personified by Archie Bunker and Rush Limbaugh.

      Hold on, throw the Taliban Islamo-fascists in there with those two.

      1. And coastal liberal-elite Karens…

  11. Hey, this was the big week for that Pillow Fag guy!

    Trump was supposed to be reinstated after some mind-blowing evidence!

    Do any of you Peanuts have an update on the election fraud?

    1. https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/elections/2021/08/11/what-is-happening-maricopa-county-election-audit-now/5562693001/

      “A final report of what Cyber Ninjas found during the audit is expected to come in the next few weeks.”

      1. Translation:

        They are struggling to find a plausible fiction that allows them to “find” enough votes to swing it to The Con Man.

        1. Translation buttplug fucked another human who didn’t consent and then posted after smoking a doobie.

  12. Must be a Canadian plot to take over the land and have the border redrawn. Sell it to them for $1/acre, seems fair.

  13. Whenever libertarians bawl about borders, they only care about our Southern one–never a squawk about other entry points. Try entering the country through an airport. You wait in a long line and better have your papers in order, nothing illegal in your baggage and not talk on your cell phone in the baggage claim area. Maybe even get your eyeballs fingerprinted. If something’s not right, you’re in detention until put on the first thing flying to where you came from. But libertarians never mention airports.

    Why do you hate people who can afford airfare?

    1. WTF are you talking about? I don’t think “libertarians” means what you think it does.

      1. It means exactly what he thinks it means. What it doesn’t mean is your stupid interpretation of anything goes and no consequences form of libertarianism. That’s the left wing version that voted for Biden even when they claimed they didn’t.

        You can deny you didn’t. The facts speak for themselves.

    2. Whenever libertarians bawl about borders, they only care about our Southern one–never a squawk about other entry points.

      Except perhaps for the case of Point Roberts, Washington. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

      1. No fat jeff nobody cares. Fatty thinks whatever he posts is relevant, when it’s not.

  14. No fucks given about random bits of land no one bothered to fight over.

    Crossing two borders is more hassle than crossing one. Film at eleven.

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  17. I miss the pre 9/11 days when the US-Canadian border was basically wide open with many informal little backwoods (perfectly legal!) crossings in farms and woods.

    Are we really better off now?

  18. What are the political inclinations of the people complaining about this? If they are Republicans or Democrats or most independents, they deserve what they’re getting because they beg for it all the time.

    Most people do not deserve freedom, security, or prosperity, due to the political atrocities that they shamelessly wish to impose on one another.

  19. There are two kinds of people I cannot tolerate.

    People who are bigoted against other people because of their national origin.

    And Canadians.

  20. If you think Pt Roberts has problems, check out Hyder, Alaska.

  21. Borders are of course a man made construction and it is always interesting to see how or why they are drawn. Michigan Uppers often have more in common with northern Wisconsin than lower Michigan. I suspect Pt. Roberts citizens are more like Canadians. Certainly Miami, FL is well within the US but in many parts English is a second language. People can draw lines on a map but culture is independent. Too bad that the lines can sometimes create problems where non need exist.

    Just out of curiosity, on the topics of borders can anyone tell me why New Orleans is in Louisiana and not Mississippi? Often visited New Orleans and wondered about the border.

    1. Too bad that the lines can sometimes create problems where non need exist.

      Wasn’t that pretty much Stalin’s intent when he set up the various Soviet Republic boundaries – to make each “republic” so filled with warring tribes that they would never be able to form a state strong enough to take on Moscow?

  22. See!!
    Borders are BAD!

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