The flags of the United States, Maine, and Canada fly near Market Square in downtown Houlton. Credit: Alexander MacDougall | Houlton Pioneer Times

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HOULTON, Maine — Canada recently made changes that loosened restrictions for cross-border visits. But for some families living on Maine’s border, the changes don’t seem to amount to much.

The Canadian government amended its border restrictions with the United States to allow people with immediate family members to cross the border after Monday’s announcement by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Previously, the only crossings allowed were for trucks transporting goods, emergency vehicles and health care workers, as well as for seasonal and temporary foreign workers.

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Family members could cross, but only after getting special permission for an “essential reason” such as a death in the family.

Though Canada has relaxed some measures for family travel, the changes will still present challenges in reuniting people with their loved ones.

Families crossing the border must quarantine for 14 days, meaning anyone who crosses must remain in Canada for at least two weeks before returning home, making day trips to visit families impossible.

People who cross into Canada also must provide contact information and confirm they will have access to food and medication for the duration of their visit, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Families in border towns in Maine, particularly those in Aroostook County, see the new regulations as far too strict, particularly since the neighboring Canadian province of New Brunswick at one point had zero active cases of COVID-19 — though a recent outbreak has occurred in the northern part of the province after a doctor returning from Quebec failed to quarantine. The County currently has only one active case as of June 11.

“That really does little for people living close to the border who would like to visit family for a day or two,” said Brenda Adams, a Houlton resident with family in the nearby Canadian town of Woodstock. “With Northern Maine and New Brunswick having lower cases than most other places, it seems oppressive that the restrictions are still so severe.”

Linda Prosser, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States who also resides in Houlton, said that although she can now cross the border, she would be unable to visit her father, who is staying in a hospital in Saint John awaiting open-heart surgery. She could only visit her mother, who lives in the town of Hartland, and would have to bring her children with her if she was to stay for two weeks.

“My family on the Canadian side would have to provide shelter, medication, food, resources like that if we were crossing, and that’s just not possible when all I want to do is just see my family,” said Prosser.

Prosser said a more effective method for allowing family members to reunite would be to review crossings on a case-by-case basis, or allow residents of local towns to cross back and forth along the border.

“I wish they would just not make blanket statements and blanket rules,” she said.

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