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Despite COVID Warnings, Many Still Traveling This Thanksgiving: 'There's Nothing That's Going To Stop Me From Seeing My Family'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) --Local officials, the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations are urging people not to travel for Thanksgiving, but there are still people at the airports and on the roads.

As CBS2's Alice Gainer reported Wednesday, license plates at the Vince Lombardi rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike were from all over: Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. But people told Gainer the roads weren't as crowded as they thought, though the skies were shaping up to be busier than predicted.

Volume on the roads was noticeably down Wednesday, which is typically a getaway day.

"Not a parking lot yet, but it's about what we expected," said Ann Taylor, who drove from Virginia.

MORE: CDC Issues Warning, Guidelines For Thanksgiving Travelers

"It was pretty empty," a college student from Maryland said.

The students were passing through on their way to Massachusetts to see family.

"I'm going to get a COVID test. Yeah, I'm going to quarantine," one said.

AAA initially predicted only about 5 million fewer travelers around the country this year from last.


"Did our projections back in middle of October and since then the disease has come roaring back," said AAA's Robert Sinclair. "We did another survey in New Jersey about 10 days ago and 88% said they weren't going to take a trip at all. So just in that last month there's been a major attitude change."

Over at the airports, it was another story. AAA said more people were flying than expected.

"I want to see my son, but I took all precautions, I have my mask," said Fordham resident Maria Garcia.

MORE: AAA Expects 50 Million Will Travel For Thanksgiving, Despite Pleas From Officials To Limit Gatherings And Stay Home

"You tell Americans one thing, they're going to do the other thing," another traveler said.

But keeping the holiday to just immediate family is something one man told Dias he would not do.

"I think it's perfectly safe," he said.

The man told Dias he was flying to Miami for a party of more than 20 people.

"Going to be a huge gathering," he said. "Who is going to be eating Thanksgiving in their own home, wearing masks and socially distancing? I don't think anyone is going to do that."

MORE: Doctor Explains Why You Should Avoid Thanksgiving, Christmas Gatherings: 'Not Worth The Risk'

"You take those things into consideration. But at the same time, I mean, family's family and there's nothing that's going to stop me from seeing my family," another traveler added.

Watch Alice Gainer's report --

Wednesday evening, travelers stood six feet apart at Penn Station, some with nervous energy as they rolled their luggage to board trains during a pandemic.

The obvious difference was the size of the crowd. It was small, unlike years past, but canceled trains could mean more people on Melany Vargas' train.

"It worries me because now I see it's going to be very crowded," she said.

"It's a little nerve-wracking," one traveler told CBS2's Cory James. "You gotta do what you gotta do."

If that's the case, officials said to expect COVID-19 numbers to continue to go up.

"The increase in air travel -- we expect there will be a significant rise. When do you see it? You'll see it about 10 days after thanksgiving," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

If you are traveling, make sure you know what the restrictions are in each state.

The New York City Sheriff's office said it had checkpoints set up Wednesday to check travelers near the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and also on 34th Street and 11th Avenue.

Carly Owens, a junior in college, said she doesn't plan to fly home until January.

"I'm going to try my best to stay far away from my family and I'm not going to see anyone besides my parents for the first two weeks," Owens said.

Flyers will find TSA checkpoints with added COVID protections, including hard acrylic barriers, officers in personal protective equipment (PPE) and new ID and bag scanners that reduce touch-points.

"There's fewer points of contact between a passenger and an officer. Additionally, it's much better security," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "Every technology we put in place provides a significant security improvement."

And with millions now working remotely, COVID may be changing when people choose to fly, leaving well before the holiday and staying longer.

"We expect to see high numbers also next Sunday," Pekoske said.

MORE: COVID In New York: Staten Island Reopens Coronavirus Field Hospital Not Used Since Peak Of Pandemic

Health officials are urging people who insist on traveling to get tested.

Across the Tri-State Area, long lines have been forming outside testing sites ahead of Thanksgiving. One West Village resident said he searched far and wide for the shortest one.

"My mom told me it took two hours to take a test, but here it takes 15 minutes. So we're like, 'Oh, I'm coming here, sign me up,'" he told CBS2.

On Staten Island, two free testing sites are set up in movie theater parking lots. This as the southern half of the island has been designated an orange zone.

"I think that some people don't care. That's the problem," one resident said.

MORE: New Restrictions Take Effect For Outdoor Gatherings In New Jersey

In New Jersey, cases and hospitalizations continue to soar.

On Nov. 1, there were 1,110 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. On Wednesday, there were more than 2,700.

"We're mostly pleading with people to do the right thing behind closed doors. Celebrate with just your immediate family, and please don't do it with grandma and grandpa," Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.


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