To drive, or not to drive?
With gas prices and COVID-19 cases surging, that is the question for Southern Californians this Memorial Day weekend.
Beth Probeus and her family of four are taking the plunge, driving south to San Diego. Their adventures, she said, will include lots of fresh air.
“We’re only comfortable with outdoor activities with Covid numbers on the rise,” the Mission Viejo resident and teacher said Thursday.
They’ll be among thousands of local residents heading to attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park and the new Sesame Place theme park.
More than two years into the pandemic, pent-up demand for travel is compelling millions of Californians to hit the road, said Ryan Becker, spokesman for Visit California.
“I want to get out, I want to travel,” he said, citing myriad reasons to leave town. “I’ve had to put my anniversary trip on hold, I’ve had to put my 40th birthday trip on hold.”
Anaheim and its main attraction Disneyland, in case you were wondering, is one of the top destinations for out-of-town visitors.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is predicting 3.1 million people in the region will be traveling this weekend, with 2.6 million or so going by car. Another 320,000 are expected to fly, jamming up parking lots around area airports.
Nationwide, AAA estimates 39.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the course of the holiday weekend.
Those projections —- which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation like trains or cruise ships — are up 8.3% from 2021 and would bring Memorial Day travel volumes close to 2017 levels. The estimates are still below pre-pandemic 2019 levels, a peak year for travel.
Gas prices in Southern California flattened this week after climbing to all-time highs. The average price for a gallon of regular gas hovered around $6.09 in Los Angeles County and $6.05 to the south in Orange County. Inland Empire prices were just below $6 at $5.97 per gallon.
At a Chevron station in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much the $6.49 a gallon price would run him in total for his Nissan work van.
“I’ll go with between 60 and 70 bucks,” the heating and air-conditioning technician speculated, eyeing the display as the price went up and up.
Estrada — just missing his guess when the pump registered $71.61 for 11 gallons of regular-grade — has been forced to raise his business fees for customers to overcome the gas prices. He’ll be working over the holiday weekend but has a vacation planned in Arizona next month.
He’s flying, but only because of convenience, not cost.
But with airline ticket prices up, too — AAA found that the average lowest airfare for this weekend is 6% higher than last year — that’s not a sure bet, either.
For others, holiday plans have already been derailed by COVID-19.
Anaheim resident Tina Ly Johnston and her family of three canceled plans to join a birthday party Monday in San Diego after the birthday kids in question came down with the virus.
“We’re going to lay low here at home and do a pool party with my sister’s family,” Johnston said.
COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise across California, especially in Los Angeles County, where hospitals are likely to soon be strained with patients, the Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
On Thursday, 6,245 COVID infections were reported in the county. Over the past seven days, the county has averaged more than 4,200 new infections per day, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus on a daily basis rose to 4.1%, up from 3.8% a day earlier.
While those numbers are well below the “high” category level, Ferrer noted that “if we continue on the current trajectory, we could find cases and hospitalizations end up exerting stress on our hospital system in just a few weeks.”
California overall reported an average of 11,200 cases per day in the week ending May 17 — the most recent week with reliable data. That’s double the cases from just three weeks before and more than five times higher than the recent low of about 2,100 cases per day in the week ending March 21.
Memorial Day travel notes
This year will be the fourth-busiest Memorial Day travel weekend on record, behind 2005, 2018 and 2019, according to the Auto Club,
For Southern California residents, the top destinations are expected to be Mexico, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park, San Diego and Santa Barbara/Central Coast. The top destination for people traveling by air will be Hawaii, according to the Auto Club.
Anaheim is expected to be the fifth-most popular destination for travelers nationally.
Friday is expected to be the most congested travel day on local freeways, with most likely to have double their normal Friday afternoon volume.
At LAX, airport officials said Wednesday that parking structures were already reaching capacity, with some already filled, particularly those closest to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and terminals 3, 4 and 5.
LAX travelers can reserve parking spots in advance at parking.flylax.com.
Staff writers Samantha Gowen and Nikie Johnson, City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register