COVID-19 cases are surging across the country. Here’s what to consider as you decide whether to get tested and travel this holiday season.
It looks like many Americans may be heeding the CDC’s advice not to travel over the holidays. But some are still determined to see family and friends.
AAA says it expects about 34 million U.S. residents to travel over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays (Dec. 23-Jan 3.) — nearly a 30% drop from last year.
AAA’s forecast estimates 2.9 million Americans will travel by plane, down 59% from last year’s 7.3 million.
And it predicts the vast majority of holiday travelers – about 81 million in total – to go by car. But that’s still a nearly 25% drop from 108 million in 2019.
However, while Thanksgiving travel was down considerably from 2019, Transportation Security Administration checkpoints still set pandemic records for passenger screenings, passing the 1-million mark for the first time since this spring.
“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”
Earlier this month, the CDC asked Americans to avoid traveling over the holidays, repeating its guidance from Thanksgiving.
“The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in a news briefing Wednesday.
“Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase,” he said.
For Americans who are determined to travel, the CDC recommends a test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel, Walke said. Those who do not get tested should reduce nonessential activities for 10 days after travel, the agency said.
AAA predicts that most people who do go elsewhere for the holidays will do so by car, with road trips making up 96% of forecasted travel.
If you are traveling by road, AAA suggests that you check for any restrictions, since many jurisdictions have rules regarding returning residents as well as incoming travelers.
Planning holiday travel? Check COVID-19 travel restrictions by state
AAA also recommends you call your hotel to confirm they are still open to residents from other states and ask what safety precautions are being taken.
The same goes for rental car companies. You can call the location where you plan to rent your car and ask what is being done to clean vehicles between uses.
Avoid certain roads at these times
And although road traffic will be down considerably, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be bottlenecks in and out of major metropolitan areas.
Traffic analysis firm INRIX advises that drivers avoid traveling these stretches of road at these times:
Road: I-75 North (Arthur K Bolton Pkwy to I-675)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 26, 3:45 p.m.
Peak delay: 32 minutes
Road: MA-3 (Derby St to I-93)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 26, 3 p.m.
Peak delay: 17 minutes
Road: I-290 East (Mannheim Rd to Morgan St)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 30, 4 p.m.
Peak delay: 18 minutes
Road: US-23 North (8 Mile Rd to I-96)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 23, 11:45 a.m.
Peak delay: 15 minutes
Road: I-10 West (Sjolander Rd to Crosby Lynchburg Rd)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 26, 3:45 p.m.
Peak delay: 6 minutes
Road: -5 South (Colorado St to I-605)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 29, 5:15 p.m.
Peak delay: 30 minutes
Road: I-95 South (I-678 to GW Bridge)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
Peak delay: 45 minutes
Road: US-101 North (Golden Gate to I-580)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 23, 5 p.m.
Peak delay: 16 minutes
Road: I-5 South (WA-18 to Portland Ave)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 30, 4:15 p.m.
Peak delay: 22 minutes
Road: I-95 South (I-495 to VA-123)
Peak congestion period: Dec. 28, 11:30 a.m.
Peak delay: 31 minutes
The good news for travelers loading up their cars with presents: Gas prices are down by nearly 20% from 2019 averages.
“Typically, cheaper gas prices are an incentive for last minute trips, especially around the holidays. But the lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson.
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