Many Americans are not following the CDC’s advice. Instead of staying home during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the government recommends, they’re going on vacation, according to the latest numbers.
This is what the CDC says: “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
But a lot of Americans appear to have ignored the warning. Just last week, CCC Information Services reported an uptick in auto insurance claims for November, suggesting more people are driving. Claims are still down 18% compared to a year ago, but up from October, when they were off by nearly 20%.
AAA’s forecast of 50 million Thanksgiving travelers now seems a little conservative. Its initial projections were just 5 million travelers below the 2019 levels. TSA screening numbers suggest many people are still flying.
So what’s going on?
- Travelers are headed to Latin America as the weather gets colder.
- They have pandemic fatigue and don’t trust the government.
- The result could be more superspreader events and a further worsening of the COVID-19 crisis.
Americans are flying south for the winter
How are Americans not following the CDC advice? Leisure demand in Latin America drove a 70% capacity increase in Mexico, particularly to vacation destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, according to OAG.
“Some carriers such as American look like they will increase capacity in the weeks leading up to Christmas,” says John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG.
By the way, the CDC says you should avoid all travel to Mexico.
In the United States, travelers are also thumbing their noses at the CDC, at least in certain parts of the country.
Here’s daily foot traffic at U.S. airports in the last two months. It’s trending down, “but only slightly,” according to David Steinberg, co-founder and CEO of Zeta Global.
“The southeast has actually had increasing airport traffic over the last two weeks of November and this includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Atlanta specifically,” he says.
What about hotels? Well, overall occupancy fell to 36% during the last two weeks of November, its lowest level since May, according to Smith Travel Research.
But Fred Becker, an associate professor of hospitality management at York College of Pennsylvania, says that’s nothing to cheer about.
“This pattern is consistent with what we know about the visiting-friends-and-relatives travel market,” he says. “They spend less on travel than most other markets because these travelers stay with their friends and relatives.”
But travelers are also waiting until the last minute to book their holiday trips, according to research by hotelAVE, a hotel asset management company. This year, its domestic resorts have 25% to 55% of the rooms reserved but are projecting 75% to 85% because of the short-term booking trends.
And just in case you forgot, here’s where we’re headed, in terms of COVID-19 cases. It’s the other direction, according to analysts at Oliver Wyman.
Why are Americans traveling, anyway?
So why are travelers not following the CDC advice and taking a vacation, anyway?
“One size does not fit all,” says Dale Mellor, an accountant from Boulder City, Nev. He says he read and understood the CDC advisory, but that it doesn’t necessarily apply to him.
“If those in the high-risk category feel they are in danger, they should not travel. I understand and respect their decision. However, I have chosen to live my life without constant fear of getting sick. Just as I respect the opinions of the anti-travel group, I feel my belief system should also be respected,” he told me.
Lila Brown, a talent manager from Los Angeles, has traveled all over the world during the pandemic — to Sudan, Mexico, and around the country to Atlanta, Washington and New York.
“I feel as though the CDC advice can be safely ignored because I practice social distancing,” she says. “I wear two masks, one for medical and one for fashion. Both have been effective.”
Travel advisors are seeing increased demand for vacations, too.
“Some of our customers want to travel now,” John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, told me earlier this week. “They want to go to the beach.”
Travel Leaders is about to unveil a new program called “Book With Confidence” that promises to give travelers information about COVID-19 with advice on how to stay safe before, during and after a trip. Here’s my exclusive interview with Lovell.
“Mad as hell”
Maybe there’s a medical explanation. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist based in Los Angeles, says people feel that they have good reason to disregard the government’s warnings. They’re wary of the at times contradictory advice coming from government and elected leaders. Despite all the precautions, the pandemic has only gotten worse. That’s confusing some travelers, she says.
“So, people are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” she says. “Traveling is the opposite of stay-at-home orders, so it seems like the perfect way to rebel.”
Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist in New York, says people are suffering from pandemic fatigue and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
“Travel during this time is compounded with a chronic enduring experience of trauma,” she says. “Our bodies are not built to withstand long-term trauma.”
How will this end?
So Americans are not following the CDC’s advice for travel. But how will this end? We can make an educated guess, based on what scientists have told us.
If you don’t believe COVID-19 exists or that this is a media conspiracy, there’s really nothing I can say that will change your mind. I have to assume you’re reading this for entertainment value.
It only takes a few people to spread COVID-19, and travel is believed to be one of the leading causes of superspreader events. That’s presumably why the CDC has issued its advisories — to stop the unchecked spread of COVID.
If people continue to travel and do not observe social distancing and mask rules, then the projections are dire. Here are the new infections projections from the CDC.
If Americans continue to ignore the CDC’s travel advice, it can’t end well. You remember the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally last summer? Multiply that by a few thousand.
My advice hasn’t changed: Stay home if you can. Avoid all nonessential travel until you get the green light.
It won’t be long.