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Thanksgiving travel: COVID-19 makes cars, planes high-risk

Determined to travel for Thanksgiving?

Doing so increases your risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and of possibly spreading it to others, experts warn. Nonetheless, millions of Americans are expected to take to the skies for the holiday. Although it marks a 48% decline from last year, AAA estimates that 2.4 million Americans will still travel by air for Thanksgiving. An additional 48 million people will travel by car, a 4% drop.

Health officials across the country are urging people to avoid nonessential travel.

“We’re actually recommending this Thanksgiving be a stay-at-home Thanksgiving,” said Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County director of public health. “If you are going to travel, we do ask when you come back that you quarantine for 14 days.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed that plea on Friday, urging Californians to not travel out of state and to quarantine if they do.

“Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

There’s reason to be concerned: Early this year in China, a large spike in travel around the Lunar New Year holiday accelerated the spread of the coronavirus throughout the country and beyond its borders.

Here in the U.S., coronavirus cases are rising significantly, at rates not seen previously in the pandemic. “The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return,” the CDC cautions.

Airports, train stations and rest stops are places where people are at risk of being exposed to the virus and it can be difficult to stay six feet away from others, as health experts strongly recommend. At airports, for example, travelers must wait in security lines and gather at gates before boarding their planes.

Once on a plane, where you sit matters. “There’s actually research on this, believe it or not: You want to sit at the window,” Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, said during a recent campus town hall. “And you want to sit as far away from the toilets as much as possible, which would minimize how often you’re near passengers walking past you…You want to be as far away from that action as possible.”

Rutherford also recommended choosing airlines that are not selling the middle seats in rows to increase distancing between passengers. “I think that’s important,” he said.

“Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes,” the CDC says. “However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within six feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.”

If you find yourself needing to take a taxi or rideshare, the CDC recommends to avoid riding with unmasked drivers or passengers; avoid touching surfaces; don’t accept free water bottles; sit as far

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