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

With the announcement that Canada aims to allow fully vaccinated Americans in for non-essential visits starting Aug. 9, families in the New Brunswick border town of St. Stephen are waiting — but not holding their breath.

“Each month they say, ‘it’s coming, it’s coming,’ and yet here we are so many months later I’ve lost track,” Heather Bridges says.

Bridges lives in St. Stephen with her four-year-old daughter, while much of her family is across the border in Maine.

She hasn’t been able to see her sister or anyone else across the St. Croix river in 16 months, as family visitation is deemed non-essential.

READ MORE: Canada will allow fully vaccinated American leisure travellers as of Aug. 9

“I’ve struggled a lot with my mental health through this pandemic,” Bridges says.

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“We’ve missed so many milestones for each other — have to celebrate birthdays through the phone.”

St. Stephen and neighbouring Calais, Maine, consider themselves a single community.

Many of Bridges neighbours are in the same situation as her: separated from stateside family members for months through the COVID-19 pandemic with the border locked down.

Family visitation is seen on an official level as non-essential travel.

Heather Bridges (right) and Alicia Weeks say they’ve only been able to see their stateside relatives through a screen for too long.

Travis Fortnum / Global News

Her friend Alicia Weeks knows exactly what she’s going through.

“It’s been so frustrating,” Weeks says.

“All you keep hearing about is, how is it affecting business? How is it affecting the economy? What’s essential and what’s not essential? And they hardly ever speak of family.”

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Weeks says she has a two-year-old niece on the other side who doesn’t even know who she is.

“It’s been pictures on Facebook and a video call every now and then,” she says.

“She doesn’t even know me.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: New Brunswick border town residents ready for U.S. travel to return

Even when the Aug. 9 reopening step arrives, Weeks wonders if her infant niece will be able to come across for a visit given she’s too young for a vaccine.

And while she and Bridges will be able to host their vaccinated American relatives, they won’t be able to go see them in Maine because the United States government says it won’t be reciprocating this step just yet.

“Any decisions about reopening travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at Monday’s media briefing.

“We take this incredibly seriously but we look and are guided by our own medical experts.

“I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention,” she says.

READ MORE: N.B. business owner says the Canada-U.S. border reopening could hurt his bottom line

Canadian residents can fly into the U.S. so long as they get tested for COVID-19 three days before the trip and prove they tested negative.

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Weeks says some others in her situation have done so, chartering their own flight into Bangor, Maine, just to see family right across the bridge.

It’s a costly loophole that she says makes no sense, when the alternative would be just walking over.

“I have an aunt that — literally, it would take me five minutes to walk to her place over there,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter. I can’t get across that border.”

So now both women are left waiting to see if Aug. 9 really will be the day they get to see their stateside family for the first time in months.

They’re waiting, but not holding their breath.

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