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Lots of Thanksgiving travel expected, despite rising COVID-19 cases

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The day before Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year, but it won’t look nearly as busy this year. The American Automobile Association reported the pandemic is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving travel plans.

The travel organization expects the biggest one year-decrease in Thanksgiving travel ever.

“I’ve worked in the travel industry over 35 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Brian Murray, director of travel for AAA of Western and Central New York.

Murray said the Buffalo airport usually has 15-20 flights a day to the New York City area this time of year. Now there are about five, which is typical of all upstate airports. He said much of the holiday travel this year is last minute. In the past, reservations are usually made far in advance.

But the pandemic isn’t stopping travel altogether.

“Many travelers are choosing by car. Road trips still reign supreme,” said AAA spokesperson Elizabeth Carey. “It gives travelers the flexibility to cancel or adjust plans, they can drive home if they need to. They don’t have to rely on anyone else. And that wait and see approach, it’s very clear that’s what people are doing.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local officials continue to ask residents to not have large gatherings for the holiday.

Cuomo donned a turkey-themed face mask at a press conference in Long Island Tuesday, where he disclosed he will no longer be celebrating Thanksgiving with his 89-year-old mother in-person.

“I didn’t want to disappoint my mother,” he said. “89 years old, she’s thinking how many Thanksgivings will I get? You start to think that way, but it’s hard. But sometimes hard is smart.”

Cuomo said New Yorkers who avoid Thanksgiving gatherings could help control the spread of COVID-19 as hospitalizations surge.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals increased to about 2,900 patients, which is almost  1 1/2 times the number hospitalized on Nov. 1.

New York has reported an average of about 5,500 new coronavirus cases per day over the last seven days, up 70% from two weeks ago.

For those who do hold gatherings, enforcement of Cuomo’s executive banning gatherings as private residences to 10 people or fewer may depend on where you are. In a statement this week, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association called enforcing that limit an “impossible task.” It’s supporting several upstate sheriffs who say they will not be issuing citations for large gatherings.

Cuomo was critical of the sheriffs Tuesday, saying their job is to enforce the law.

“That is a frightening precedent,” Cuomo said. “What if they don’t agree with anti-discrimination laws? What if they don’t agree with domestic violence laws?...I’m not interested in your political opinion. Enforce the law.”

Some sheriffs have argued that Cuomo hasn’t made it clear exactly how law enforcement can enforce his rules on private gatherings.

“Instead, we are faced with an unenforceable dictate issued without any consultation with law enforcement or the public as to enforceability,” the state Sheriffs’ Association said in its statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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