Arkansans should expect lower travel volume throughout the state for Thanksgiving this year as some people are wary due to the pandemic to participate in the American tradition.
With covid-19 still a cause for concern in officials’ eyes, many, including Dr. Jennifer Dillaha from the Arkansas Department of Health, discourage traveling for the holiday if possible, this year.
“There’s so much community spread there that it is very likely that people will be exposed while they’re in transit,” Dillaha said. “And then if you have several people going to the same destination from the same household, it’s possible that once you get there, you could be exposed to the virus that causes covid-19, or you could bring it to that event and not know that you are harboring the virus. You may not have had symptoms yet.”
AAA expects most will not follow health official guidelines, as the association estimates 50.6 million people will be traveling, dropping from only 55.9 million people in 2019.
Dillaha suggests if Arkansans are going to visit family or have family coming into Arkansas, they take added measures to prevent contracting the virus.
“One of the safest things they could do is quarantine themselves beginning now until they travel to minimize the chance they might be exposed and be infected and take the virus with them,” Dillaha said. “When they are there, it’s very important for people even when you’re in someone else’s home, to stay socially distant and wear a face mask.”
Having meals outdoors if possible is ideal, according to Dillaha, and will decrease risk by allowing better airflow.
“People may be able to modify their surroundings,” Dillaha said. “They may have a deck where you have heaters, or a lot of these places have fire pits or some outdoor heating available. But the main thing is to get where there’s air circulations, and, of course, air circulation is always better outdoors than it is indoors.”
Meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh with the National Weather Service in Little Rock said the weather is going to be perfect on Thursday across the state for celebrations in the outdoors, with a front moving out early the day before and the weather holding up until Friday.
“Thanksgiving Day should be dry across the state,” Cavanaugh said.
For those looking for areas to have Thanksgiving dinner outdoors some of Arkansas’ many parks, like Pinnacle Mountain State Park, are open and have outdoor seating areas.
Park workers said rentable space is booked through December at Pinnacle Mountain, but outdoor areas are available.
AAA estimates nearly 50% fewer people will travel by air and over 75% fewer will travel by other non-automotive means. Hotels are expecting to get a small boost since you can get a room cheap most everywhere right now.
Shane Carter with Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field said the airport has experienced a more than 50% drop in traffic since the beginning of the pandemic but warns those coming through the airport should still arrive early for flights.
“We still recommend passengers be at the airport at least an hour ahead of time for domestic flights,” Carter said. “As people hear that air travel is down, it’s my concern they may get to the airport even later and that could put them in danger of missing their flight.”
Carter suggested arriving one hour before you scheduled flight, which is what he usually would suggest, but also has several other suggestions for fliers.
“We ask that anyone visiting the airport wear a mask, have it on inside of the building, respect social distancing, do not congregate in the gate areas and also remember a mask is required on board an aircraft,” Carter said.
The Arkansas State Police has urged Arkansas motorists to wear seatbelts to avoid unnecessary loss of life. The push on the enforcement side to pull over drivers in violation began on Nov. 16.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said that trends in data suggest another way people can stay safe is by choosing the right roads.
“The vast majority of fatalities that have occurred this year have occurred on two-lane state highways,” Sadler said. “That’s not to say we have not had fatalities on the interstates and divided highways. We have. But all the way through summer and into early fall we have tracked fatalities ticking upwards and overtaking those on the interstate highways that have occurred on two-lane highways.”
Sadler said the best way to stay safe while driving this year is to stick to interstates and larger highways when the routes are available and to drive the speed limit.
“The seatbelt is a wonderful defense mechanism to protect the driver and passenger in a motor vehicle, but one of the greatest contributors towards events is just backing off your speed,” Sadler said. “We know that people are often in a hurry regardless of the reason. Some of those reasons sound very legitimate, but it’s not worth endangering anybody’s life whether it be another vehicle on the highway or yourself while you’re speeding.”
Arkansas Highway Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Parker said they have areas in Arkansas with projects under way that may restrict lanes but does not expect traffic to surpass last year.
“This year with covid and the recommendations from the CDC, I can’t imagine it’s going to be as heavily traveled as years past, but who knows?” Parker said.
The Department of Transportation detailed highway and interstate lane closures throughout the state. 12 areas including four stretches of highway in Calhoun County and two spots on Interstate 555 will be restricted.
Parker said drivers should check idrivearkansas.com for updates before heading out on the roads for the latest updates on the traffic situation.
“If you’re going to travel this holiday season, just be aware, be smart and check out idrivearkansas.com ahead of that to kind of know about any lane closures or diversions or anything,” Parker said. “I mean, we obviously have a handful of projects going on as we always do.”