The Washington region is in the midst of a Thanksgiving travel season like no other.
Amid an alarming spike in new coronavirus cases, governors and local health officials are urging people to stay home. Health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have “strongly recommended” people avoid traveling during the holiday.
Most seem to be heeding that advice.
“It’s been a long outbreak — almost 11 months now — and people are tired. We understand that,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, head of the CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force. “People want to see their relatives, their friends and [celebrate] the way they’ve always done it, but this year, particularly, we’re asking people to be as safe as possible and limit their travel.”
Even before the CDC issued its updated recommendations, surveys by AAA Mid-Atlantic showed many people already had decided not to travel.
About 83 percent of D.C. residents said they planned to stay home this Thanksgiving holiday. When asked why they had decided not to travel, 65 percent cited the coronavirus pandemic. A similar number of Virginia residents, 84 percent, said they would be staying put.
In Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday urged residents not to let their guard down and to remain vigilant about wearing masks and social distancing, 89 percent of those surveyed said they would not be traveling. The Maryland Department of Transportation on Monday asked residents to avoid nonessential travel.
[Hogan announces targeted enforcement of coronavirus restrictions in bars and restaurants]
It’s a significant shift from previous years, when the Thanksgiving exodus would begin a week earlier as people plotted how to avoid the inevitable crush of holiday traffic. Regular commuters were warned to leave their offices early on Wednesday to avoid getting caught in holiday getaway traffic. The Capital Beltway became a sea of brake lights.
This will be the first Thanksgiving in more than a decade that fewer people plan to travel for the holiday when compared to the previous year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
But not everyone is staying home. Roadways and airports might be more crowded than in previous months, but the volume will be a far cry from previous years, officials said.
The Transportation Security Administration reported it screened more than 1 million passengers Friday and again Sunday — something that has happened only three times since the pandemic began in March.
“We’re seeing more people on a daily basis than we have in the last few months,” said Christina Saull, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Dulles International and Reagan National airports.
Even so, Saull said passenger volumes are down about 60 percent compared to 2019, when trade group Airlines for America projected 30.6 million people would travel over a 12-day period around Thanksgiving.
Saull said travelers are largely following requirements to wear masks and practice social distancing. She said free masks are available at airport information desks. Many airlines also are making masks available.
In a briefing