CDC Urges Americans to Forego Thanksgiving Travel, Visits With Extended Family

November 19, 2020 by Dan McCue
Motorists wait in long lines to take a coronavirus test in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

WASHINGTON — It is traditionally the largest travel holiday of the year, however, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging Americans not to travel during this Thanksgiving holiday and to skip gatherings with family members outside their households.

Officials with the agency said they were strengthening their recommendations against travel due to the current surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

As of Wednesday, the seven-day average of new cases across the country had surpassed more than 162,000.

During a briefing with reporters, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said he and other officials at the agency are not only concerned about the mode of travel people use to see relatives during the holidays, “but also the transportation hubs.”

“Amid this critical phase, the C.D.C. is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” said Dr. Walke. “When people are in line to get on a bus or plane, social distancing becomes far more difficult and viral transmission becomes more likely,” he said.

Officials said their warning is an attempt to prevent the holidays from becoming superspreader events that could extend the surge in cases into early next year.

According to AAA Travel, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including health concerns and unemployment, were already impacting Americans’ decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel – the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.

Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving – a drop from 55 million in 2019.

However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions and the CDC’s travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel.

“The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure,” she said.

Travel spending in the U.S. is expected to finish the year 45% down from 2019 levels, and will still not have returned to its pre-pandemic strength by 2024, according to figures released by the U.S. Travel Association earlier this week.

The new 2020 projected travel spending figure of $617 billion is slightly worse than U.S. Travel’s previous forecast released in July ($622 billion)—and is a precipitous drop from the $1.13 trillion spent on travel in the U.S. overall in 2019.

The nosedive reflects a decline of 34% in domestic leisure travel spending—but even sharper drop-offs in the lucrative domestic business (55%) and international inbound (77%) markets.

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