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Mayor of Omak, Wash. excited to see Canada-U.S. land border reopening

The mayor of one small city in the state of Washington says she’ll be warmly welcoming Canadian visitors when the U.S. land border reopens next month.

In an interview with Global News, Omak mayor Cindy Gagne said she was happy to hear the news earlier this week, when American officials announced that the border crossing would be reopened to fully vaccinated Canadians.

The border, which has been closed due to COVID-19 since March 2020, will reopen on Nov. 8.

However, the opening currently comes with a caveat: Canadians can easily cross into the U.S., but they’ll need a negative COVID-19 test to get back home.

There are growing calls for Ottawa to end that requirement, though time will tell if that happens before next month’s reopening.

In the meantime, Gagne said “we’re pretty excited” about the prospect of Canadians returning to their town.

Located about an hour south of the B.C. border community of Osoyoos, Omak has a population of around 5,000. Prior to the border being closed, it was common to see scores of B.C. licence plates in Omak on any given day.

“I think we have felt it,” Gagne said of Omak missing Canadian tourism.

Omak is the commerce centre for Okanogan County, with Gagne saying the city didn’t feel the hit as much as other communities, like the Washington border town of Oroville.

But Gagne said certain events and places, like the Omak Stampede and an area casino, do rely on Canadian traffic.

As to what she expects to see once the border closure lifts, Gagne predicts it’ll be more of a trickle than a deluge of tourists.

“I think people will be careful,” said Gagne. “But I do expect a trickle initially, and then people will go back to normal. We’re excited.”

With Omak being a small city, Gagne was asked if there’s any COVID concerns in the community from travellers.

“I think it’s relatively small,” said Gagne. “We tend to be a little resilient here and maybe a little stubborn, so we have our share of anti-vaxxers. But I don’t think we have a fear.

“People have been behaving and we’ll be fine.”

Notably, Gagne said she’s looking forward to travelling north and visiting Osoyoos and Penticton, stating “we’re excited about the opportunity to come and go again.”

Earlier in the week, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee (D) said that “Washingtonians have long been ready to welcome back Canadians traveling by land.”

In a statement, he said “I am pleased to hear from reports out of our nation’s capital this may finally happen in early November. It should have happened sooner: Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and Canadians were already allowed to travel to the U.S. by air throughout the pandemic.”

Inslee continued, saying “the local economies of border communities in Washington and other states are connected to our friends across the border, and their recovery from the pandemic has been delayed by the border closure.”

According to the Washington state department of health, Okanogan County has 2,917 confirmed cases of COVID-19, along with 1,993 probable cases and 73 deaths. The county has an approximate population of 42,000.

Comparatively, the Central Okanagan (with five times the population) has had 10,861 cases as of September. Vernon had 2,395 cases while Penticton had 978 cases and the South Okanagan had 620.

The province does not release data on deaths per local health area, only per region. As of Oct. 15, the Interior Health region — which has an approximate population of 800,000 — had 29,281 total cases and 252 confirmed deaths.

For more information about case counts, visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the Washington state department of health.

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