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Trips decline during pandemic

Susan McDonald Daniels, a Morgantown travel agent, is playing the waiting game for now.

Daniels, like many, is waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine — and  for a time when she can help clients safely travel again. 

“Right now I am talking about destination travel to keep it on people’s minds,” said Daniels, owner of Susan Daniels Dream Vacations. “I tell people about my favorite places.”

Welcome to summer, a time when families typically get into their vehicles and go on vacation, albeit to the beach, camping or the mountains.

But summer 2020 is a bit different, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The American Automobile Association said Americans will take 700 million trips based on state re-openings and economic indicators.

That number may look healthy, but it’s not — it is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September, AAA said. It is also the first decline in summer travel since 2009. 

Traveling by automobile has declined 3.3%, air travel is off 73.9%, cruise or rail, 85.5%, AAA said.

The latest forecast for the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington, D.C., trade group, estimates $505 billion in losses for the travel industry for a total of $81 billion in tax revenue. The report said the industry is not expected to recover until 2024. 

Locally, Visit Mountaineer Country Convention and Visitors Bureau was forced earlier this year to lay off much of its staff because revenue from local hotel room taxes declined.

“Americans will get out and explore this summer though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of Travel in AAA’s 2020 Summer Travel Forecast Report. “When they do venture out, travelers will take to the road with 683 million car trips to satisfy their wanderlust.”

Maneuvering safely during the pandemic

So what do you do if you need to travel? Wear a mask and be socially distant, said Dr. Lee Smith, executive director and chief health officer of the Monongalia County Health Department. 

“People should not be fearful, but they should be careful,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is important to know whether your destination spot has an outbreak of the virus. And check with the local or state health department. 

During travel by rail, bus or air, keep at least six feet from people who are not members of your household and wear a face covering. Avoid touching surfaces such as kiosks, ticket machines, ticket scanners and hand rails and elevator buttons.

If traveling by a taxi or ride share, pack sanitizing wipes and a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol, the CDC said. Other tips include asking the driver to keep windows open and turn the air conditioning to non-circulating, and sit in the back seat. 

But when traveling by car to a weekend getaway, it’s important to remember any stops for gas, food or bathroom breaks put you at risk for possible infection. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Use drive-thru restaurants for food breaks. 

Also, West Virginia encourages people who have gone to a crowded vacation area, like Florida or Myrtle Beach, to stay at home for 14 days once they return to the Mountain State.

The local situation

Around 75% of the 400 active COVID-19 cases in Mon County are people between  ages  18 to 29, a much different demographic from March when mostly elderly had the virus. Using the scale developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the county is considered a virus hotspot and cases have tripled since July 1.

Morgantown City Council passed an ordinance last week that imposes a fine on people who do not wear masks in indoor public spaces. The penalty for violating the law can vary from a minimum of $25 to a maximum of $500.

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