WEDNESDAY, Oct. 13, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Beginning in November, the United States will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from Canada and Mexico for the first time since pandemic closures began 19 months ago, the Biden administration will announce Wednesday.
The move comes just weeks after U.S. officials said they would soon lift a similar ban on foreigners traveling to America from overseas.
Tuesday's action effectively completes the reopening of the United States to tourism, ushering in a new phase in the pandemic recovery, The New York Times reported.
The reopening comes with a requirement: full vaccination. Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be banned from entering the United States, officials told the Times. Those who were never banned from traveling across the land borders, including commercial drivers and students, will also need to show proof of vaccination, starting in January, they added.
The nation's travel restrictions, first imposed in March 2020, only applied to "nonessential travelers" -- relatives visiting family members or shoppers -- whom border communities relied on for income. Politicians representing such communities have pleaded with the Biden administration to lift the travel restrictions to help struggling businesses.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, said the border closings had cost one county in her state at least $660 million annually.
"This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border," Gillibrand told the Times.
Those entering at the Mexico or Canada borders will be questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers about their vaccination status before being allowed to cross. The officers will have the discretion to send travelers to secondary screenings to have their documents checked, officials told the Times.
Importantly, President Biden will continue to use a separate border policy implemented early in the pandemic to turn away migrants seeking protection or economic opportunity, the Times said.
While travelers flying to the United States will need to show both proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test to enter the country, there will be no testing requirement for those crossing the land border, the Times noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson's shot.
Those who have received vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as the one made by AstraZeneca, would also be considered fully vaccinated — a standard one senior official said would probably be applied to those crossing the land border, the Times reported. But officials added that the CDC was still discussing whether foreigners crossing from Canada or Mexico with two doses from different vaccines could enter.
The reopening of the United States comes not a moment too soon: Tourism spending dropped in the United States by nearly half, to about $600 billion in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, the Times reported.
"Border communities have been hamstrung because of port closures," Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who represents a border district, told the Times. "Not only did we suffer more significant health devastation in 2020, but the economic devastation has been longer for us because of those port closures."
Visit the U.S. State Department for more on traveling internationally during the pandemic.