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Thanksgiving travel in Southern California to see biggest drop in 12 years

The skyrocketing spread of the coronavirus, combined with urgent pleas from health agencies to stay home, are curbing Thanksgiving holiday travel plans for many Southern Californians, experts say.

Forecasts for travel in the region between Tuesday and Sunday, Nov. 24-29, call for a 14% decrease from last year, the biggest drop since the 2008 Great Recession, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“We expect that decrease might be even greater and we very well could see fewer travelers,” said Marie Montgomery, Auto Club spokesperson.



In Southern California, because 92% of the 3.86 million expected Thanksgiving travelers will drive, they can easily cancel plans if they choose to heed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s warnings against holiday travel, further pushing down travel numbers, Montgomery said.

Car travel is expected to be down about 7% from last year, she added, while air travel is predicted to fall 48%. Bus, train and cruise passenger volumes are forecast to be off by 77%.

Nationwide, AAA Travel predicts about 50 million Americans will be on the move this holiday, still a relatively high number, but 5 million fewer than 2019.

Safer at home

Despite warnings from public health officials that the safest holiday is one spent close to home, some travelers are unwilling to miss out on family time this Thanksgiving.

Kyle Haughland, 31, arrived at LAX Monday, Nov. 23, from Portland, Oregon, to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Los Angeles. He planned on getting a coronavirus test first.

“I haven’t seen my parents or siblings in months. Zoom calls can only fulfill so much,” Haughland said.

But with more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week alone, Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz of the CDC urged Americans to cancel travel in one of the agency’s firmest announcements.

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” she said.

The United States has had more than 11.8 million diagnosed infections and over 254,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the most in the world. In the past two weeks, infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been surging across the country.

Gatherings with people from other households are a main reason why the virus is spreading at its current rate, health officials say. The CDC points to similar surges after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.

The other factor is “pandemic fatigue,” whereby people let down their guard and, for example, stop wearing masks, proven to be effective in preventing the spread of the virus, the CDC reported.

Roger Dow, president of U.S. Travel Association, on Thursday said he was disturbed that so many people were planning to travel this Thanksgiving despite cases spiking and rising hospitalization rates. He pleaded with travelers to continue to wear masks and wash their hands frequently.

“It is extremely important to not become complacent about our health and safety practices. If we do, the longer this pandemic will go on,” he said in a prepared statement.

The CDC announcement came the same day state Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announced the imposition of overnight curfews that began Saturday for most residents, including all of those living in Southern California. Most nonessential work, movement and gatherings are to be suspended daily 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Dec. 21. Residents traveling out of state must quarantine for two weeks upon returning.

Airports see boost

About 3 million passengers went through U.S. airport checkpoints between Friday and Sunday, marking the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.

At LAX, air passenger volumes are at 30% this month as compared to the same time in 2019. The airport could not predict the number of passengers it expects during the next six days, saying an uptick is possible. LAX expects to see about 846 flights per day Nov. 18-30. For the same period last year, there were 1,638 flights per day.

“Don’t travel unless you have to. We are here if people need to travel,” said Charles Pannunzio, LAX spokesperson.

On Monday, Nov. 23, LAX traffic seemed like a typical day with dozens of people going in and out of terminals.

“I probably would have rather just driven if I had a car,” said Lauren Riviera, 28, before she hopped a flight to visit family in Austin, Texas. “I’ve been isolating and I tested negative a couple days ago but it’s still taking a big risk around my relatives.”

Ontario International Airport is operating at 50% compared to last year and expects to see 100,000 passengers between Nov. 20-30. Between Dec. 17 and Jan. 3, it will see 180,000 air travelers, based on current airline schedules, the airport has reported.

For those 280,000 combined holiday travelers, ONT opened its first COVID-19 on-site testing facility Monday in Parking Lot 3, run by the nonprofit Covid Clinic. Starting Tuesday, testing will be available 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily by appointment only. Drive-thru stations will administer testing of people in their cars and results are expected in 20 minutes, said Steve Lambert, airport spokesman.

John Wayne Airport in Orange County is experiencing air passenger volumes at 32% compared to last year, said Deanne Thompson, spokesperson. The number of flights are down and she didn’t notice any surge of passengers or unusual lines on Monday, Nov. 23.

“We are not saying it is not safe to fly,” she said, adding the airlines and the airport have implemented restrictions, including plexiglass barriers, mandatory face-coverings and social distancing. Like all local airports, sanitizing of surfaces and restrooms have increased since March, when the pandemic began.

Surveys and models do not indicate where travelers are going. Most will be visiting family members, experts said. Although some travelers flying out of LAX this past weekend were headed to vacation destinations in Mexico and Hawaii.

Hitting the road

Those who do pack up the car and go — the overwhelming majority — should expect to experience bottlenecks on Wednesday afternoon in the following spots, according to AAA Travel predictions:

• 5 Freeway southbound from Colorado Street exit near Griffith Park to the 605 Freeway

• 405 Freeway southbound from Sunset Boulevard exit to the 105 Freeway

• 10 Freeway eastbound from the 5 Freeway interchange to Grand Avenue exit in West Covina

• 405 Freeway northbound from the 90 (Marina Del Ray Freeway) to the 5 Freeway

• 10 Freeway eastbound from Lincoln Boulevard exit in Santa Monica to the 5 Freeway

Traffic on the 10 and 15 freeways in the Inland Empire is expected to be much lighter compared to past holidays.

“This year we are not projecting the type of traffic we normally get to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving,” Montgomery said. “You will not see that kind of traffic backup toward the IE.”

For those staying home, 43% will consider eating outdoors to reduce the risk of viral transmission; 70% said they’ve improved their culinary skills while 34% plan to video call extended family members, according to a survey done by My Subscription Addiction, a mail-order food and gift box review site.

A man identifying as Michael Horowicz replied to a Twitter query about holiday plans: “I may travel to Gelson’s (market).” His response was retweeted several times.

Staff writer Hunter Lee and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Source: Orange County Register

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