PLATTSBURGH — Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, last week called on New York to mimic other northern border states now helping to vaccinate Canadian neighbors.
“Not only is it goodwill,” Jones said, “but it’s a start to getting this border open — and we can do it.”
Jones highlighted recent efforts of North Dakota and Michigan, saying the two Midwestern states were inoculating essential workers from the Great White North.
While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered such an allowable use, the New York State Department of Health has yet to allow the Empire State to use its COVID-19 vaccine supplies on foreign nationals.
“We can do it; we have the supply now,” Jones said. “We have done an excellent job here in the north country, and in New York state as a whole, in getting that (vaccine) rolled out and now it’s time to help our friends and neighbors to the north.
“I’m calling on New York state to give us that permission, give us that guidance to get essential workers from Canada vaccinated here.”
The District 115 representative spoke during a Tuesday morning news conference at the North Country Chamber of Commerce on Route 9 in Plattsburgh, where Chamber President and CEO Garry Douglas announced his team fully endorsed the initiative.
At first, Canadian truck drivers would be targeted, Douglas said. Those individuals were labeled “essential” since northern border passage was first restricted in March 2020 and have continued cross-border operations.
“There are hundreds of truck drivers every day, Canadian truck drivers who are coming up and down ... servicing our economy and servicing the Canadian economy; they are essential,” Douglas said.
“Many of the older drivers have probably been reached in Quebec and Ontario, or they have now qualified (and) have had access to be vaccinated at home,” he continued. “But, particularly because the Canadian schedule is lagging where we are at (with vaccinations) by quite a bit, we get a lot of younger drivers who are still not eligible back home.
“It just makes good health sense, good public policy sense to offer to vaccinate these folks who are coming across the border and who are essential personnel, who are keeping our economy going. It’s the right thing to do on every level. “
Douglas said informal talks on the matter had begun with health officials and noted a willingness to collaborate from U.S. Customs and Border, support from State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and possible sites that would ensure truck drivers “wouldn’t have to leave the highway” to be vaccinated.
“Those conversations have shown this is very doable and could be done, actually, very quickly if the state of New York just gets on board and says, ‘Yes. This is the right thing to do. It is in the interest of the state of New York. We bless those county health departments and others who may be part of setting this up and churning it out.’”
Jones hoped, after essential workers were targeted, that “essential travelers” could be vaccinated on this side of the border, as well.
After hearing two campground owners discuss hits to business and tourism since the border’s closure, as well as the heartfelt story of Morrisonville resident Tracy Simmons, who was unable to visit her Canadian mother, Mary Sharpe, before she died early this year, Jones remarked, “If that’s not great advocacy, I don’t know what is.”
“If you own property over here in the United States, I believe you are an essential traveler,” he said. “If you have family members on each side of the border, you’re an essential traveler. That family depends on you.”
If New York were to offer this aid to Canada, both Jones and Douglas thought it would send a strong message of care and support. Douglas, who called the U.S.-Canada relationship “the most special binational relationship on the face of the Earth,” recalled the aid offered by America’s northern neighbor during the aftermath of 9/11.
“This is an opportunity for us to do the same for them in return in a smaller, but important way.”
Douglas expressed some concerns that the Canadian Government was holding off on the border reopening partially due to a looming election, believing “the realities of a pre-electoral season are more of a factor than some calculation.”
Jones asked that Can-Am governments stop with monthly border closure extensions and instead set a solid date and plan for a phased reopening.
“Mr. (Justin) Trudeau, open up this border — start to open this border,” the assemblyman said, addressing the prime minister of Canada. “We need it.”