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Maine town hopes free PCR testing can bring Canadians back

Click to play video: 'Calais, ME hopes free tests can bring back New Brunswickers' Calais, ME hopes free tests can bring back New Brunswickers
WATCH: With restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border cutting down on Canadian traffic in town, Calais, ME is hoping free PCR testing can bring them back. – Feb 1, 2022

The town of Calais, Maine, hopes access to free PCR testing in town might get traffic moving across the Canada-U.S. border again.

Just across the St. Croix River from St. Stephen, N.B., the two towns combine to make up one community — with the international border a minor detail in between.

St. Stephen residents have previously detailed to Global News just how symbiotic things were before COVID-19 shut down international travel — as well as the headaches caused by the requirement of a negative molecular test result to return to Canada if they were to hop across for a visit.

Read more: How a N.B. woman longs to be reunited with family in Maine after 16 months

Even the month-long lifting of the requirement in the fall seemed to benefit the community.

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“I never looked forward to seeing Canadian plates as much as I did,” says Mike Ellis, city manager for the City of Calais.

“We’re like one big happy family.”

The requirement was brought back late December 2021 amid the surge of the Omicron wave, but Ellis says Calais hopes increased access to PCR testing there can get people crossing again.

The town has lent out its recreation centre to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Safety to administer PCR testing — free of charge.

Ellis says even foreign nationals and uninsured Americans don’t need to pay out of pocket, they just need to provide an American address so Curative, the company administering the nasal swabs, can be reimbursed by the United States government.

It’s good news for folks crossing to see family or friends whose address they can use — but it is unclear how those without an American counterpart can benefit.

The requirement for crossing the border states the test result shown must be from a test taken within 72 hours (or three days) of crossing.

Unlike previous versions of the rule, the travellers’ negative test result must be from a test taken outside of Canada.

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Read more: Canada reintroducing PCR test for any length of travel abroad amid Omicron

Without the simplicity of crossing on which folks in St. Stephen and Calais have come to rely, stateside business owners say they’re suffering.

“We had a clothing store, Label Shopper, they shut down,” says Debra Loring, who owns Latitude Forty-Five, a barbershop a stone’s throw from the border.

“Marden’s is still open but we keep hearing rumours.

“They’re not doing the business, I’m sure, nearly where they were.”

Hairdresser Debra Loring says businesses in Calais are feeling the absence of Canadian customers. VIA Zoom

Loring opened shop shortly before the pandemic, and in “normal times” it wouldn’t be unusual for a resident in St. Stephen to make that international trip for a quality haircut.

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“It’s certainly impacted what could have been,” she says.

For New Brunswickers who do want to see Loring for a trim — or otherwise visit Calais — the testing site at the rec centre operates 7 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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