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HOULTON, Maine — Only 15 miles and 20 minutes of driving separate the towns of Houlton, Maine, and Woodstock, New Brunswick. Travelers from both border towns are accustomed to driving quickly over, whether to buy something they can’t get on their side or to visit family and friends.
But the closing of the border between the United States and Canada in late March to help curb the spread of COVID-19 has cut off the daily access the people in the two towns had to each other.
“There’s been a long history of international travel between New Brunswick and Maine in general,” Art Slipp, Woodstock’s mayor, said. “So one of the major interruptions with the lockdown on the border is that we haven’t had the ability to do these social visits back and forth.”
The effects can be particularly challenging for those who have family on both sides of the border.
“It’s been very, very hard for me and my family because we’re not able to go visit,” said Melissa Trecartin, a Houlton resident who has a sister in Woodstock and a cousin in nearby Centreville, only two miles from the border with Maine. “There’s certain things that we like to go shop for. I miss their butter and their ketchup.”
Ordinarily, Trecartin would visit her cousin, Jean Marie, in Centreville at least once a week. But now family interactions are limited to FaceTime over the phone.
“Sometimes that’s hard to do as well,” Trecartin said. “It’s like you just want to give them a hug.”
For Americans with Canadian family members, as well as those who have Canadian citizenship but live in the United States, special permission can be granted to travel across the border if there is an “ essential reason,” according to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Visitors must quarantine for 14 days upon entry into Canada, though those traveling for essential jobs are allowed to go to work and back. Reasons for entry can include things like receiving medication, going to work and medical care for families.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also said that American citizens and lawful permanent residents are allowed to return to the United States if entering from Canada.
But even for those who are able to meet these certain circumstances, the challenges remain.
Brenda Adams is originally from Woodstock, but has lived in Houlton since 1973 with her American husband. But most of her family still lives in Canada, and her father, Ralph Carson, had been staying in a nursing home in Woodstock when the closure of the border was announced.
“We were trying to stay in touch through FaceTime and video chat, but being 90 years old he didn’t really get it,” she said. “But at least he could hear our voices.”
But about a week ago her father, who had prostate cancer, began to see a worsening of his condition. Adams contacted the border and was given a number to call to see if she could be granted special permission to cross into Canada. She was told that she could, but she also would have to quarantine for 14 days after arriving before she could visit her father.
“I said that he’s not going to live that long,” Adams said. “I thought maybe the nursing home would give me special permission to come in this situation, but they’re guided by the [Public Health Agency of Canada] and they had to follow those guidelines.”
Her father died on May 1, and Adams then had to try to see if she could obtain special permission to attend his funeral. In New Brunswick, funeral services may be held as long as the gathering does not exceed 10 people and proper social distancing etiquette is practiced, according to the New Brunswick Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association.
Adams drove across the border an hour before the funeral and pleaded her case to a quarantine officer. After 30 minutes of deliberation, she was given permission to cross under specific guidelines and attend her father’s funeral.
“I’m going to try everything I can,” she said before she was granted permission to attend the funeral. “I don’t want to regret later that I didn’t.”
Watch: Nirav Shah talks about the impact of coronavirus on rural Maine