RALEIGH — Thanksgiving and Black Friday are just about here, but the preparation to make sure everyone is safe and healthy during the holidays takes time.
North Carolina health officials said any scenario where a group of people gathers together poses a risk of COVID-19 transmission. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to avoid traveling for the holiday as cases spike across the country.
This year, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said the best way of making sure coronavirus doesn’t spread through your extended family is to stay home. But if you have to travel, be aware of the risks.
State health officials have released the following tips for holiday gatherings:
- Do not host a gathering if you feel sick, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus
- The smaller the gathering, the better
- Try to hold event outdoors
- Seat families that live in same household together at same table
- Make sure tables are 6 feet apart
- Disinfect common areas frequently
- Adhere to the 3 W’s when you’re not eating/drinking
- Get screening test prior to attending family event
If you are traveling over the holiday, health officials said you should consider having a screening COVID-19 test done before traveling or attending family events.
You are encouraged to wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands frequently and monitor yourself for symptoms, even if your test comes back negative.
(Click “Change Location” in the tool below to see what the odds of catching COVID-19 are where you live.)
If you are planning to hold in-person gatherings for Thanksgiving, it’s recommended that you clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces before guests come over and between uses.
The day before, guests should screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they are not feeling well.
Health officials said if at all possible, you should consider hosting Thanksgiving outside. If it’s not possible, arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing between each guest.
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It’s also recommended to limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared. Officials said you should consider naming one person to serve all the food so there are not multiple people touching the serving utensils.
The reconsidering of the traditional Thanksgiving holiday will also include after-dinner events like Black Friday. The CDC suggests instead of heading to the crowded mall, you should hit the computer and do your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping online.
Mecklenburg County also put together some tips for staying safe over the holiday:
- Avoid travel and gatherings with individuals outside of your household if possible.
- Prepare a meal with people in your household.
- Host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner and share recipes.
- Put up your favorite decorations and share photos online.
- Watch parades, sporting events and movies on TV at home.
- Shop for food and other items online instead of in stores.
- If travel and gathering with individuals is unavoidable, get tested first, and always follow the 3 Ws, even if you receive a negative test result.
Lower Risk Activities:
- Having a dinner with only people who live in your household
- Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others
- Having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family
- Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home
Moderate Risk Activities:
- Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
- Attending a small outdoor sports event with safety precautions in place
- Attending a reverse parade, where spectators remain in their car and drive by floats or performers
- Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
Higher Risk Activities:
- Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household or with people who do not practice the 3 W’s (wear, wait, and wash)
- Attending parades- under the current Executive Order traditional parades are prohibited mass gatherings and limited in size
- Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race -- Remember that any gathering of more than 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors are prohibited statewide
Planning to travel for Thanksgiving? Google tool pinpoints COVID-19 hot spots
COVID-19 has changed everything in the last eight months. Even road trips now come with a different level of planning.
Fresh out of the coast guard academy, Evan Tyndall traveled home from Connecticut to Georgia mostly along Interstate 85.
“You can be strategic about your timing for sure to plan around those crowds and the area and kind of what the feel is for using masks for sure,” Tyndall said.
Travel technology has come a long way in the last ten years. Most travelers rely on mapping programs to guide them on the road and steer clear of traffic, but Google Maps has added a new layer of technology to help navigate around a new obstacle -- COVID-19.
According to Google Maps analyst Justin Burr, it’s as easy as clicking a box on the app.
“What that’s going to do is it’s going to show you the 7-day average of COVID cases per one 100,000 in a specific area,” Burr said.
Users can even isolate specific roadside stops like gas stations and restaurants to identify which are more crowded than others.
“We use historical data to try and predict the busyness,” Burr said. “We’ve also extended that feature not only to indoor brick and mortar stores but to other outdoor areas like parks and beaches, so again, you can kind of avoid the crowds and stay up to date.”
AAA says expect fewer cars, less traffic
If you are traveling for Thanksgiving, AAA expects the road to be on the clearer side with fewer cars and less traffic due to the pandemic.
“As we get closer and things start to unfold, if it gets worse that could change. If it gets better, that could change,” AAA spokesman Jim Garrity said.
The agency’s report said it is expecting a 10% decrease in travel this year. AAA said this is the biggest one-year decrease in travel it has seen since the Great Recession in 2008. AAA said it expects 8% fewer cars on the road compared to last year.
Air travel is expected to drop by almost 49% from last year and other forms of travel like taking a bus or a train are predicted to fall by 77%. However, the agency said with COVID-19 case counts changing daily, the projections could also change drastically.
Garrity said health and economic concerns were pushing more people to choose driving over other methods of travel.
“Make sure you know on the way where you’re going to be stopping. Try to minimize these stops if you can and make sure you pack extra hand sanitizer and extra masks, and just be prepared to socially distance wherever it is that you go,” Garrity said.
Wednesday is Busiest Day on the Roads
The highest volume of traffic will be Wednesday afternoon, according to AAA’s partner INRIX – the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Although traffic volume is expected to be less than in years' past, travelers in major urban areas will experience increased delays at popular bottlenecks, up to 30% above normal pandemic congestion levels.
Carolinas Thanksgiving Travel Volumes
- Automobiles: The vast majority of travelers – around 1.39 million North Carolinians and 660,000 South Carolinians will hit the road, just over 2.5% less than last year.
- Air Travel: Just over 63,000 North Carolinians will travel by air, along with approximately 29,000 South Carolinians – a 46% decrease from 2019.
- Other Modes (trains, buses, etc.): About 6,800 North Carolinians will use other modes of transportation, along with an estimated 4,900 South Carolinians – a 76% decrease from last year.
For Americans who make the personal decision to travel for the holiday, it is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to the CDC guidelines, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.
What to Know Before You Go
- Plan Ahead. Check with state and local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place.
- Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
- Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises.
- Hotels. Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining. For added peace of mind, visit AAA.com/Travel to search AAA Diamond-rated properties that earned AAA’s Best of Housekeeping Awards.
- Car Rentals. If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.
- Helpful AAA Resources. Visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map for the latest state and local travel restrictions.
Charlotte Douglas expects 17,000 extra passengers to fly over Thanksgiving
American Airlines has adopted new cleaning procedures to protect you and your loved ones in the air.
The airline has hands-free check-in. You scan a QR code on your digital boarding pass and your bag tag will print right then.
After every flight, the plane gets a thorough cleaning with double the staff and for double the time (about 15 minutes).
Crews use hospital-grade disinfectant and focus on high-touch surfaces like seats, seatbelts, overhead luggage compartments and armrests.
At the end of each night, the plane gets a deeper cleaning and about once week the plane gets fogged. The fog is composed of a disinfectant that sticks to surfaces and fights viruses for seven days.
While those changes are specific to American Airlines, the airport said passengers see many of them across the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
“What you’ll see in today’s environment, which is much different than what we did before the pandemic is we have our janitorial crews cleaning and working throughout the building even while the passengers are moving through the building at peak times,” airport CEO Jack Christine said.
Wearing a mask is a non-negotiable for passengers flying out of Charlotte Douglas.
If a traveler doesn’t have a mask, airport staff will give them one for free.
There are clear protective shields installed at customer service counters and in security. The airport has also installed an air filtration system.
Official said it uses state-of-the-art light and ionization to kill as much as 99% of viruses and bacteria -- similar to what’s used in hospitals.
There have also been 60 hand sanitizing stations installed throughout the airport, but travelers can also carry their own supply.
“We have allowed passengers now to cry 12 ounces of hand sanitizer with them in their personal bag. You have to keep in mind that might add some added security procedures with that to make sure it is clear,” Federal Security Director Kevin Frederick said.
Even though traveler numbers are down this year because of the pandemic, airport officials said they’re expecting 17,000 extra people to fly each day between next Tuesday and Sunday.