Dan Brotman is one of a handful of members of the Windsor Jewish community who has experienced first-hand how two different countries have adapted to living with this rollercoaster of a pandemic.
Despite Canada’s recent announcement that fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents will be able to enter for non-essential travel starting Aug. 9, the Department of Homeland Security has regrettably decided to not reciprocate and renewed its ban on non-essential travel for most foreign nationals — including Jewish Windsorites — at the U.S.-Canada land border until at least Aug. 21.
As a U.S. citizen who lives in Windsor and works on both sides of the border, I am permitted to travel relatively freely between the two countries, which I do several times a week. This puts me in a somewhat unique position, as I am one of a handful of members of the Windsor Jewish community who has experienced first-hand how two different countries have adapted to living with this rollercoaster of a pandemic.
These days, driving between Windsor and Detroit is what I imagine crossing East to West Berlin might have felt like in the 1980s. Although the situation in Ontario has improved due to Canada’s accelerated vaccination campaign and subsequent loosening of restrictions, it has not been this way for the majority of the nine months I have lived here.
Up until earlier this month, even fully vaccinated Canadians were required to enter quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the country, and non-essential travel was banned between certain Canadian provinces. For a good part of this year, Canada trailed behind the U.S. in vaccinating its population due to lack of supply. Canadians were waiting four months between doses and encouraged to mix vaccines, whereas our American neighbors were waiting the standard three to four weeks between two doses of the same vaccine.
For many months, we looked across the river with envy as our neighbors in Detroit were awash in vaccines, and our mayor even attempted to lobby the federal government to allow Michigan to share some of its surplus vaccines with Windsor. Finally, the flood of vaccines arrived, and similar to the U.S., now most Canadians who want to get vaccinated have already had the opportunity to do so, and now only wait 28 days between receiving two doses of the same vaccine.
I experience the stark difference between our two realities as soon as I pull up to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where the guards are generally maskless; Canadian guards and travelers are required to wear masks at border control. Despite the Delta variant, I notice that most Detroit residents continue to be maskless, including employees at grocery stores and restaurants. Shops and restaurants are buzzing, although Downtown is still relatively quiet, and people are living not too differently from their pre-pandemic lives.
Just a short drive away in Windsor, it is still not uncommon to see residents wearing N-95 masks when in their car alone or walking outside on an empty street.
Despite Ontario now being significantly more vaccinated than Michigan, the Detroit Jewish community appears to have come back to life in a way that we have not. Handshakes and hugs have returned, meetings are in-person again, and on almost a weekly basis invitations are being sent out to a wide swath of in-person social and cultural events. Jewish organizations throughout the city are starting to publicize international trips for young adults this fall and winter, and Detroiters are getting on planes for their summer vacations.
Throughout Ontario, masks are required in just about every indoor situation, with a maximum of 25 people permitted in a room, regardless of their vaccination status. Asking for someone’s vaccination status is still legally murky and culturally unacceptable, resulting in some Canadians not feeling the urge to get vaccinated, as being vaccinated does not automatically translate into new freedoms. Most meetings continue to be held via Zoom, and summer vacations are still mostly driving distance.
Whereas President Biden removed his mask on May 13 following the CDC’s revised mask guidance, many of Canada’s fully vaccinated federal and local politicians are still masked outdoors, elbow-bumping their constituents and behaving almost identically to how we all did throughout pre-vaccine 2020. Up until a couple of weeks ago, basic activities in Ontario such as getting a haircut and indoor dining were forbidden, which left small business owners no choice but to operate an underground black-market economy in order to survive.
Restricting economic activity for so long and forbidding cross-border tourism have resulted in the closure of many small businesses throughout Windsor; I was shocked to recently walk down Erie Street in Little Italy and see so many barricaded storefronts.
There are many aspects of Canada I greatly appreciate, such as its diversity, universal healthcare and the general civility of its people. I genuinely hope that the Biden administration decides to reopen the land border next month, not only to revive cross-border tourism and reunite loved ones, but especially because Canadians will greatly benefit from observing an alternative, and in my view, more sustainable way of learning to live with COVID-19.
Originally from Boston, Dan Brotman is a member of the Windsor Jewish Community. He writes in his personal capacity.