An estimated 50 million Americans are planning to defy COVID-19 warnings and travel to join friends and family this year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The figure is 10 per cent down from last year, and shows the largest drop since 2008, the height of the global financial crisis.
AAA published the predictions in a Thursday report, using economic forecasting and research from IHS Markit to make the calculations.
The findings defined this year’s Thanksgiving holiday travel period as the five-day stretch from Wednesday November 25 to Sunday November 29.
Thanksgiving travel will be down 10% from 2019 (pictured is New York’s Penn station last year)
Traffic jams on Thanksgiving Eve, 2019: the majority will travel by car this year too
They said their calculations were to be taken with some caution, as the actual figure will vary depending on the course of the worsening pandemic.
Wednesday saw the worst-ever day for new cases, with 143,408 new infections confirmed, and 94 per cent of states are seeing surges. The death rate is expected to spike in coming weeks, following on from the new infections.
‘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,’ the group said.
‘However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions and CDC travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.’
Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said many people had not yet made up their minds.
‘The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,’ she said.
‘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.’
The AAA found that most people intend to travel by car, with 95 per cent of all travelers during the period – 47.8 million people – making the journey by road.
Public health experts say that it is a significantly safer way to travel, and advise minimal stops, plus pre-packed snacks and drinks.
Commercial air travel will be dramatically down, with just 2.4 million flying to their destination, AAA said.
The figure is the largest one-year drop on record and holiday airfares are said to be at their lowest in three years.
Airlines, having suffered immensely during the pandemic, are still hoping beyond hope that people choose to fly, and are emphasizing both the safety of their aircraft and the hygiene measures they are taking.
United Airlines is adding 1,400 flights, and American Airlines will fly more than 500 additional flights daily.
Advice from experts is not in travelers’ favor, however.
People get tested on Thursday at the new saliva testing site at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport
A woman is tested at a Las Vegas drive-through testing site on Thursday
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns even ‘small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.’
The agency recommends getting a flu shot, hosting small gatherings outside, wearing a mask and staying out of tight spaces like kitchens.
‘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,’ said Tom Frieden, former CDC Director.
‘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.’
Others have taken the message even further.
Travelers wait to board an Amtrak train to Albany on Wednesday November 27, 2019
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has already decided that he will be having a ‘very, very closed family type of thing’ and even his daughters will not be present.
He said they are staying at home because they live in ‘disparate parts of the country’ where there are concerning levels of COVID-19 infection.
Fauci has three adult children with his wife, Christine Grady: Jennifer, 34, Megan, 31 and Alison, 28.
‘We would love for them to come home for Thanksgiving,’ said Fauci, who lives in Washington DC.
‘They have said themselves: “Dad, you know you’re a young, vigorous guy, but you’re 79 years old.”‘
Instead, Fauci’s daughters said: ‘We want you and mommy to have a nice, quiet dinner,’ he recalled, speaking at an October virtual seminar hosted by American University’s Kennedy Political Union.
‘Maybe have a neighbor next door that always comes over the house that you know that’s negative, and we’ll send our love via Zoom.’
Fauci added: ‘I’m not going to criticize people who do it differently, but look at the individual situation in your own family and make a decision that way.’
A highway to San Francisco on the eve of Thanksgiving in 2019: this year 47.8 million will drive
Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, on Thursday imposed a 30-day stay-at-home order, and said people should not be in groups at all indoors, including for Thanksgiving dinners.
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said people should not be gathering at all.
‘If you are asking for my advice, I have said publicly that my personal advice is you don’t have family gatherings, even for Thanksgiving,’ he said.
‘I don’t want to endanger our family or our friends, so we’ll celebrate virtually.’
Republicans in his home state have already said they won’t comply.
‘I’ll be having more than 10 ppl at my house on Thanksgiving. My address is public record. Some family will come from (gasp!) New Jersey,’ tweeted Joe Borelli, a Staten Island councilor.
‘Kids will see their grandparents, cousins will play in the yard, sis in law will bring strawberry rhubarb pie, & a turkey will be overcooked,’ he added.