Should You Travel Or Stay Home on Thanksgiving?

The record numbers of new cases of Covid-19 being reported in many cities and states has many people reconsidering plans to travel for the holiday.

Thanksgiving Day is next week and that usually means long lines in crowded airports and traffic jams on the nation’s highways, but that probably won’t be true this year. The recent huge spike in Covid-19 cases has many people rethinking their travel plans.

For Aleta Nissen, her husband Dave, and their 14-year-old daughter, it’s usually a pretty simple decision. They pack up the car and drive from their home in Bend, Ore., three and a half hours to Dave’s mother’s house in the southern part of the state. But this year?

“We’ve been back and forth for about a month, deciding whether it’s really doable,” Nissen says.

On the one hand, they make the same trip every year and with the rapidly spreading coronavirus, it might not be worth the risk.

“I’m more of the mind, let’s skip. Let’s skip this year,” Nissen says. “You know, it’s (just) one year.”

But on the other hand, it’s been a rough year and the family could benefit from getting away and spending time with relatives for a few days.

“We haven’t seen any of his family for a long time,” says Nissen, adding that her daughter started high school this fall remotely and really wants to see family. “It’s this balance, isn’t it, of this, kind of, the relationship and the mental health aspect of being able to see the people you love and still trying to play it safe.”

It would be a small group gathering of just two households and six people total over a couple of days, so Nissen agreed that they can go, under one condition.

“Well, if we’re gonna do it, then I think the only way to do it would be all get tested beforehand,” she says.

So if all test negative for Covid-19, the Nissens are going. The plans are set. Right?

“It still could change,” Nissen said, with a laugh. “It’s changed multiple times since the month ago or so when we started talking about the options and it could change again.”

And the Nissens are not alone. It appears that millions of other Americans are also going back and forth about whether or not to travel for Thanksgiving.

The AAA estimates that close to 50 million Americans will go out of town this Thanksgiving, or at least they’re planning to travel.

“But we know not all of them are going to follow through with those plans,” says AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee. “We know not all of those people are gonna to travel. And that’s because they’re reading the landscape. They’re watching Covid-19 cases going up, and that’s going to stop people from making that decision to hit the road.”

If 50 million people do travel for Thanksgiving, the number would be down 10% from last year. And of those who are planning to travel, McGee says 95% of them, a much greater proportion than usual, will drive, rather than fly or take a bus or train.

“These trips are going to be shorter, both in distance and in terms of the number of days they’ll be gone.”

Some airlines, including United and JetBlue have added flights for Thanksgiving week, anticipating a little bump up in traffic, but overall air travel will be down significantly from the 31.6 million people who flew over the holiday last year.

“We did see an uptick in October. That has petered out,” says Nick Calio, president and CEO of the industry group Airlines for America. “What has happened is quite clearly, the news. You listen to the news every night and it’s all about the surge in the virus and it’s depressing that pent up demand.”

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