How the pandemic is playing out on the B.C.-Washington border

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VANCOUVER -- Although the government announced Monday that Canada would be closing its borders to most non-Canadian citizens, this new rule does not apply to U.S. citizens -- causing concern in British Columbia, home to one of the busiest border crossings and the country’s highest death toll from COVID-19.

On both sides of the border, COVID-19 cases are soaring. In Seattle, more than 6,000 families received grocery vouchers today, as restaurants, bars and food courts closed. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, four people have died.

At the Lynn Valley Care Centre in B.C., the COVID-19 outbreak has taken more lives.

“The sad news is that we have had three additional deaths that have been reported over the last few days,” Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer said in an update Monday.

The news comes after Canada’s first fatal case of COVID-19 -- a man in his 80s -- was announced last week at Lynn Valley.

There’s been a cluster of cases at the facility, including at least 12 staff members who are now ill.

“The outbreak report that I received … was that they were continuing to find cases popping up,” Henry said.

There has also been infections at another Metro Vancouver Seniors home, and at a busy provincial hospital, although neither have reported any deaths so far.

Many families at the centre are now grappling with whether or not to move their loved ones.

“Everybody is a little bit fearful,” said Debra Drew, who has family at Lynn Valley.

About a two-and-a-half hour drive south of the Lynn Valley Care Centre is the Life Care Centre in Kirkland, Washington.

Like Lynn Valley, it is the epicentre of an outbreak. But unlike in B.C., the Life Care Centre’s outbreak has killed 29 people. It’s one of the biggest clusters of death in the U.S.

And while B.C. has 103 cases of the virus, Washington has 769.

Because of this, B.C. officials are asking U.S. citizens to stay away, and are hoping Ottawa will reconsider the travel ban exemption for U.S. visitors.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the new regulations on Monday, saying that permanent Canadian residents, immediate family members of citizens, diplomats, air crews and U.S. citizens would still be allowed into Canada.

There will be increased flight restrictions, but the border restrictions will not apply to commerce or trade.

When asked why the U.S. had been exempt from the closure of the border to non-Canadians, Trudeau said that as Canada’s closest neighbour, the country was viewed in a different category than other countries. He added that the government was monitoring the situation.

The U.S. response to the crisis has been much-criticized for the slowness with which the country reacted, as well as the lack of testing that has been done. The Ohio Department of Health estimated last week that there could be up to 100,000 cases of COVID-19 in Ohio alone, although the high threshold of circumstances to acquire a test means only around 50 have been confirmed to have the virus.

“It’s our strong view, and it’s our strong message that visitors from the United States not come to British Columbia,” Henry said.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister, has said that she’s working with B.C. officials specifically to address their concerns.

However, she said that B.C., “like every single province and territory … has extremely close, extremely dense, social and economic connections with the U.S.”

At the discussion continues between provincial and federal officials, any American who comes to B.C. in the meantime will have to self-isolate for 14 days.