Around 50 million Americans could travel for Thanksgiving this year, according to new predictions by AAA, despite officials' fears that the holidays could contribute to the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases.
The predictions, published in a report on Thursday, say that based on October models the group would have expected a drop from 55 million in 2019 to 50 million this year, but declines to commit to a conclusive prediction due to continued changes in circumstances.
“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 50 million figure actually marks a 10 per cent drop in travel across the holiday period between 25 November and 29 November, the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008, the agency said.
The number comes amidst warnings from officials and experts that families should avoid hosting large gatherings and travelling long distances for the holidays over fears over its possible contribution to an ongoing surge in coronavirus cases.
"When people get together indoors, eating, drinking, talking, shouting, singing, that's unfortunately how to spread a lot of Covid, especially when people are traveling around," former Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr Tom Frieden told CBS News.
"Please be more careful around Thanksgiving so that we can have a merry Christmas, otherwise there's a real chance that we're going to see explosive spread of Covid throughout December as a result of the Thanksgiving holidays," Dr Frieden added.
The CDC advises that the “safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household” as “small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in Covid-19 cases” which have surpassed 10 million across the country.
The agency noted that if Americans choose to spend Thanksgiving away from home the safest way to do so is by bringing your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils, wearing a mask, following stringent hygiene measures, eating outside or keeping rooms ventilated.
“The decision to travel is a personal one,” said Ms Twidale. “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.”
Travel by car across the holidays is projected to account for 95 per cent of all holliday journeys at 47.8 million travellers, the AAA said.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told The New York Times that people often maintain a false sense of security if they just invite family or trusted friends and “almost subconsciously let their guard down.”
“They don’t realise they’ve come in from multiple cities, spent time in airports. They come to a house where Grandma and Grandpa are, or someone with an underlying condition, and they innocently and inadvertently bring infection into a home. It’s dangerous. You’ve got to be careful," he said.
Officials in Texas, which has become the first state in the US to surpass one million cases, echoed the same sentiment as the CDC in regard to the holidays.
“The strongest advice is don’t gather with people outside of your household this Thanksgiving,” said Dr Mark Escott, a top public health official in the Austin area, according to The Austin American-Statesman.
“If you choose to do that, despite the very strong advice to not do it, then doing other things to protect yourselves is important.”
The US broke another pandemic record this week with more than 140,000 new cases recorded within one 24 hour period, making the ninth straight day of new cases topping 100,000, according to a Reuters analysis.
AAA reminds those still intending to travel for the holidays to plan their route ahead and minimize the number of stops along the way by packing meals, extra snacks, and drinks in addition to an emergency.
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