Traveling for Christmas discouraged during the COVID-19 pandemic

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See also: Will holiday travel affect students returning to school in January?

Traveling for Christmas is going to be different this year for a lot of people. Experts have advised against traveling because of the possibility of spreading COVID-19. (Emily Andersen)

BYU family studies major Molly Flinders will be traveling with her husband, Logan, to both Oklahoma and California for Christmas.

Flinders said she hasn’t done much traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her family did come to visit her in Utah for Thanksgiving. She said she is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, but she isn’t worried about catching it herself because Flinders and her husband both had the coronavirus in early November and have since recovered.

“When we started making travel plans, we were worried that we would be carrying the virus to our families or we would cause more problems than us visiting them would be worth,” Flinders said.

If she hadn’t already gotten the virus, Flinders said she would have been much more concerned about traveling. She said she probably still would have gone to visit her and her husband’s families for the holidays, but that they would have taken a shorter trip and taken more care to fly during less-popular times.

Now, however, Flinders said she and her husband are excited to be able to help their high-risk family members avoid catching the virus by running errands for them over the Christmas holiday.

Nancy Volmer, the director of communication at the Salt Lake International Airport, said the airport has seen an increase of travelers leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it’s not nearly as many people as were traveling at this time last year.

That lines up with travel information on a national scale. According to the Transportation Security Administration’s foot count, there were about 1.5 million more people flying the day before Thanksgiving 2019 than there were this year.

Although there have been more travelers during the holidays than during the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still significantly less people traveling by plane this year than last year. Data from TSA checkpoint numbers, see link above. (Graph by Emily Andersen)

Volmer said the Salt Lake airport has had a number of safety procedures in place since the beginning of the pandemic, and they will be especially careful during the holidays to ensure passenger safety. She said the best thing passengers can do is follow safety instructions and wear their masks while traveling.

“The compliance has been fairly good and we’re doing what we can on our part to make sure that people are safe when they’re traveling. So, we really encourage passengers to do the same just for their fellow passengers,” Volmer said.

The airport is also preparing for Christmas travel in other ways. Volmer said the Christmas decorations this year are far beyond what the airport has done in the past because they’re trying to make this holiday extra special for travelers.

“I hope that those who are traveling recognize that we’ve done what we can to make sure that they feel comfortable doing so, but we’re also trying to make it a little extra special for them,” Volmer said.

Brad Berges, a BYU biology professor who specializes in the study of viruses, said that since viruses spread more when people are in close proximity with each other, people should be wary of airplane travel and getting together with family.

“It’s the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions that we need to shield the most. Does that warrant not getting together for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners?  That’s something that everybody is going to have to determine for themselves,” Berges said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended staying home for the holidays this year. Its website recommends asking a series of questions before deciding whether or not to travel for the holiday, including, “Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?” and “Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19?”

The CDC website also has guidelines for those who do decide to travel, such as getting a flu shot before traveling, bringing extra masks and hand sanitizer, and getting tested for the coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also encouraged people to stay home this holiday season and avoid traveling and gathering with those who live in different households. Dr. Fauci did clarify, however, that Santa Claus, the one man who travels more than anyone else during the holiday season, is immune to COVID-19.

As for Flinders and her husband, she said that even though they aren’t that worried about catching the virus themselves, they’ll still be taking as many precautions as they can.

“I think a lot of responsibility was put on everyone mutually. In airports, if there’s one person who’s not wearing their mask over their nose and they’re standing too close to you, that’s how a lot of things get spread,” Flinders said. “Even when people think they’re being safe, they aren’t always, so I think that we’ll continue to be careful.”

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