As isolated seniors struggle in Point Roberts, calls grow for border exemption
A warning sign is posted at the Canada-U.S. border separating a neighborhood in Delta, B.C., and Monument Park in Point Roberts, Wash., on Tuesday March 13, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
VANCOUVER -- The border closure that isolated Point Roberts, Wash. from both Canada and the rest of the U.S. has left dozens of seniors and people with disabilities at risk, according to a group of volunteer care providers.
Few places have felt the impacts of the ongoing border shutdown as intensely as Point Roberts, a tiny pene-exclave that's separated from the rest of Washington state by water and where 75 per cent of property is owned by Canadians.
And with the town's most vulnerable residents effectively cut off from their families, who would normally make regular trips across the border to visit and help out, members of Circle of Care have been left picking up the slack for months. That can mean cooking meals, delivering groceries, picking up prescriptions, walking dogs, fetching mail, or even driving to doctor's appointments in Blaine and Bellingham.
"Now that the families can't come around, the burden is really on us, and it's more than we ever anticipated when we started this organization five years ago," said Galen Wood, Circle of Care's board president.
While some family members have done what they can to help, they can face a mandatory 14-day quarantine when they get back to Canada. That's severely limited their ability to contribute, particularly if they don't have the option of working from home upon their return.
"It's just extreme," said Annelle Norman, Circle of Care's executive director. "They're treated like snowbirds who are coming back after spending six months in Miami. This one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work."
A number of quarantine exemptions have already been granted – including for parents dropping off cross-border students, or people accessing medical care within 36 hours of their arrival in Canada – but they don't appear to apply to the kind of routine care a family member might provide to an aging relative. A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said the government does not comment on individual cases or situations.
Circle of Care spoke of one Point Roberts couple in their 80s with four adult children in B.C., who have now exhausted all of their discretionary time off from work trying to help care for their father, who has been experiencing transient ischemic attacks – or "mini-strokes" – for about a year.
Circle of Care and others in Point Roberts have been pushing the U.S. and Canadian governments to work out an exemption recognizing the community's unique situation for months. They pointed to the eased restrictions announced last October allowing for limited cross-border travel between a few mutually reliant communities, including Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska.
Residents there are allowed to cross back and forth for necessities without being forced to quarantine upon their return, a relaxing of the requirements that the Canadian government described as a "practical adjustment."
People living in Point Roberts argue they're ideal candidates for such an exemption, stressing the fact that they have yet to identify a single local case of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
"We're all very conscientious about sticking to our own small bubble," said Norman. "We are an example of what could happen in the larger community if people would just mind their Ps and Qs."
The Stewart-Hyder exemption was worked out in collaboration with provincial health officials, and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has previously rejected the idea of easing any restrictions at the Point Roberts border, noting that Stewart and Hyder are much more remote communities.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health issued a statement saying the province is "aware of the challenges residents of Point Roberts are facing and we sympathize with the difficult circumstances that loved ones are facing on both sides of the border during this pandemic."
"We continue to discuss this unique situation with Washington state with the understanding that federal border exemptions and the current federal quarantine act is under federal jurisdiction," a spokesperson said in an email.
For now, Circle of Care said volunteers are doing their best to provide a stop-gap measure.
"These people need their families," Wood said.