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.”
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 guards 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.
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 delays. 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 with 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 with 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 with reporters last week, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency expected its busiest days around the holiday will be Wednesday and Sunday. He also encouraged those who are traveling to be patient with others because it will be the first time many are traveling since the pandemic began.
Pekoske emphasized changes the TSA has made to screening procedures to protect travelers and its workers. Officers are required to wear masks and gloves. Gloves will be changed out following each pat-down and if a passenger requests they be changed, he said.
Pekoske said acrylic barriers have been installed in areas where travelers come into contact with TSA officers and passengers are being asked to place their boarding passes on document scanners instead of handing them to officers. At National Airport, the TSA is rolling out the use of face scanners to verify travelers’ identities.
Nick Calio, chief executive of Airlines for America, said that while U.S. carriers expect a slight bump in passenger traffic during this holiday period, numbers will be down significantly compared with last year’s.
“Our data shows that even on the busiest days, we’re going to be down nearly 40 percent or more or 60 percent or more,” Calio said. He added that roughly one-quarter of planes remain parked.
AAA Mid-Atlantic said it is more important than ever for people who are driving to plan ahead, making sure their cars are “road ready” while plotting routes to reduce the number of needed stops. With many states imposing restrictions on out-of-state visitors, travelers are also advised to check ahead about quarantine and testing requirements.
On the rails, Amtrak is also seeing a decline in passenger counts during what is traditionally one of its busiest times of the year.
The rail service often brings in extra workers to manage the crush of passengers at Union Station, but this year will be different. During a call with reporters Monday, chief executive William J. Flynn said demand is about 20 percent of what it was last year.
He said it has softened in recent days in part because of the CDC’s recommendation that people avoid traveling for the holiday.