Winter journey raises extra fears of viral unfold

Washington, December 18

Tens of millions of people are expected to travel to family gatherings or winter vacations over Christmas, despite pleas by public health experts who fear the result could be another surge in cases like the one that has swept the nation since Thanksgiving.

AAA predicts that about 85 million Americans will travel between December 23 and January 3, most of them by car. If true, that would be a drop of nearly one-third from a year ago, but still a massive migration taking place in the middle of a pandemic.

Jordan Ford, 24, who was laid off as a guest-relations worker at Disneyland in March, said he plans to visit both his and his boyfriend’s families in Virginia and Arkansas over Christmas.

“It is pretty safe — everyone is wearing a mask, they clean the cabin thoroughly,” said Ford, who has travelled almost weekly in recent months from his home in Anaheim, California and gets tested frequently.

“After you get over that first trip since the pandemic started, I think you’ll feel comfortable no matter what.”

Experts worry that Christmas and New Year’s will turn into super-spreader events because many Americans are letting down their guard — either out of pandemic fatigue or the hopeful news that vaccines are starting to be distributed.     

“Early on in the pandemic, people didn’t travel because they didn’t know what was to come,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, “but there is a feeling now that, ‘If I get it, it will be mild, it’s like a cold’”.

The seven-day rolling average of newly reported infections in the US has risen from about 176,000 a day just before Thanksgiving to more than 215,000 a day. It’s too early to calculate how much of that increase is due to travel and gatherings over Thanksgiving, but experts believe they are a factor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19”.

People who insist on travel should consider getting tested for the virus before and after their trip and to limit non-essential activities for seven days after travel with a negative test result and 10 days if they don’t get tested.

Other countries have imposed restrictions ahead of the holidays. Last month, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed to permit a maximum of three households to mix between December 23 and December 27, regardless of what local restrictions are in place.

Rachel Watterson delayed her New Year’s Eve wedding because her fiance’s family can’t travel to the United States from their home in Germany.              

Instead, the couple plans to elope and will fly from their home in Chicago to Hawaii with her parents, her brother and a friend. They picked Hawaii because of requirements that include coronavirus testing before arrival and a rapid test at the airport.

“We felt this was one of the very few safe choices we can make if we are going to travel,” Watterson said.

Tim Brooks, a 37-year-old engineer in Long Beach, California, cancelled a trip to Grand Cayman because of a ban on international visitors, then scrapped a Christmas visit to his parents in North Carolina as infections spiked in California and around the country.

“If it were just us, it wouldn’t be so bad, but we have older parents and we are trying to keep them safe,” Brooks said.

Airports and planes will be far less crowded this year in what is normally a high travel season. So far in December, air travel in the United States is down 67% from last year. If Thanksgiving is any indication, the number of travellers will rise the rest of the month, but airlines are warning that bookings have slowed down since the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. — AP

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