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Thanksgiving Travel During COVID a Different Experience

File Photo – The public is urged to take precautions if they take to the roads this Thanksgiving.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Thanksgiving has always been a time for families to take to the road and gather together, and many are still making plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s St. Clairsville post, troopers will be out in force during the holiday.

“We’ve all been dealing with the COVID since the beginning of the year,” Lt. Maurice Waddell said.

He added an increase in traffic is expected, although it may not compare to prior years. Currently, traffic is normal.

“As far as traffic volume, we haven’t seen a decrease in traffic volume. We’re just going to anticipate Thanksgiving travel is going to increase. We’ll be on the interstate looking for crash-causing violations, distracted drivers, failure to wear a safety belt, impaired driving, things of that nature,” he said.

In another possible travel dampener, last week Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has also set a 21-day 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. statewide curfew.

“That doesn’t give us probable cause to stop cars if they’re out past curfew. We won’t be stopping vehicles based on that,” he said. “If we do stop somebody for a violation and they’re out past curfew (we will tell) motorists about the importance of the curfew.”

Kimberly Schwind, senior manager of public affairs with the American Automobile Association said in October, AAA was anticipating a 10-percent drop in travel nationally and a nine-percent drop in Ohio.

“This would mark the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession back in 2008,” she said.

Schwind said this estimation was further modified downward during the month’s surge of COVID cases, with an even larger drop possible.

“The number of travelers this Thanksgiving is definitely a moving target as we continue to see COVID cases rising and renewed quarantine restrictions and health travel notices from the (Center for Disease Control) so we expect a lot of people to kind of decide last-minute that they’re not going to travel this year.”

“It’s very difficult to make those predictions,” she said.

AAA also conducted a recent survey of 954 West Virginia residents. Of those surveyed, 86 percent said they would be staying home for Thanksgiving.

Of that 86 percent, 31 percent of those people said COVID-19 was their reason for staying home, while 69 percent said they weren’t travelling anyway.

Eighty-six percent of West Virginians surveyed said they perceive travelling at this time poses a risk, and 11 percent called that risk “significant.”

“I think what happened is that, as you get closer to the holiday, travelers start solidifying their plans,” AAA spokeswoman Jenifer Moore said. “There are new state restrictions and orders that have come down and people may decide that, with the new orders and the (Centers for Disease Control’s) recommendation to stay home, let’s just not go anywhere.”

Schwind said AAA has not made any official stance on the public’s decision to travel.

“We advise people to follow the CDC’s guidelines. We also recognize traveling is a personal decision,” she said.

Motorists are reminded to plan ahead, have a route in mind and stock their vehicle with sanitizer, extra masks, and gloves, disinfectant wipes or even plastic bags to put over their hands so they do not need to touch the gas pump at filling stations.

“Travel during this pandemic takes a lot more prep work than in normal times,” she said.

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