- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2020

Americans are still hitting the road and taking to the sky for the Thanksgiving holiday, though in smaller numbers than in years past, amid health officials’ warnings about spreading the coronavirus.

And many of those travelers apparently are getting tested for COVID-19 before they leave, with several states reporting an uptick in testing amid a surge of infections and hospitalizations across the country.

The Transportation Security Administration reported Sunday that this past weekend was the “busiest” for airline travel since the beginning of the pandemic in March, with more than 3 million passengers screened. Still, that’s less than half of the 7 million passengers TSA screened during the weekend before Thanksgiving last year.

“We have been handling passenger volumes reaching more than 900,000 a day frequently since early October,” the agency said in an email to The Associated Press.

What’s more, AAA Travel estimates that about 47.8 million people will travel by automobile and nearly 2.4 million by aircraft this holiday. But the travel insurance firm says those figures represent huge declines from just last year, which saw 55 million travelers for Thanksgiving.

“AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel — the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008,” the firm said last week in its annual national survey.

In addition, Mike Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, said that the managers of the controlled-access roadway anticipate “fewer cars on our roadway than in prior years” during the Thanksgiving holiday, which traditionally begins Tuesday evening and lasts until Sunday.

On Monday, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told reporters that ridership demand this year was about 20% that for last Thanksgiving, which saw the “greatest level of demand” ever for the holiday.

“It’s softened a little bit just in the last several days,” said Mr. Flynn, whose railway announced a $800 million operating loss on Monday due to a steep decline in ridership during the pandemic. “Part of that is a result of the CDC recommendations.”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for Thanksgiving to limit the spread of the virus — suggesting smaller outdoor gatherings, limited travel, social distancing, mask wearing and minimal consumption of alcohol.

While acknowledging that travel “may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC suggests a range of precautions for those Americans who are risking a trip home, such as getting a flu shot and using hand sanitizer.

Survey data suggest that most Americans are planning to stay close to home for turkey and football.

About 144 million Americans aged 18 or older — more than two-thirds the adult population of the country — said they have canceled overnight plans more than 100 miles from home, according to demographer Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, analyzing data published by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has pushed for cash refunds for skipped flights during the pandemic, said people who dropped their Thanksgiving travel are doing the right thing and following public health guidance.

“Airlines, which have already received billions in government bailouts, should provide passengers cash refunds when they are spending the holiday without both family and economic certainty,” Mr. Markey said in an email to the AP.

Amid a surge in coronavirus cases as Thanksgiving approaches, many states and localities have reported long lines for testing.

More than 300 people stood in line Sunday in a Jacksonville mall parking lot for COVID-19 testing, according to the Florida Association of Public Information Officers.

Meanwhile, the state of Nebraska has boosted free-of-charge testing by 25% this month in advance of the holiday, according to TestNebraska, performing 26,695 tests in a week ending Nov. 14, or double the rate swabbed in all of July.

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