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Many Americans returning to pre-pandemic Thanksgiving traditions, pollsters say

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Millions of Americans are loading up their cars or piling onto planes, determined to reclaim Thanksgiving traditions that were put on pause last year by the pandemic. The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels.SEE MORE: Wintry Weather Threatens Thanksgiving TravelAuto club AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period, an increase of nearly 4 million over last year despite sharply higher gasoline prices. Many feel emboldened by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated.But it also means brushing aside concerns about a resurgent virus at a time when the U.S. is now averaging nearly 100,000 new infections a day.Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Recent polls indicate more Americans plan to return to pre-pandemic Thanksgiving routines and are dropping many social distancing protocols — even as COVID-19 cases are still rising in large swaths of the country, particularly in the Midwest.

An Axios/Ipsos survey released Tuesday found a little more than two-thirds of adults will spend the holiday with folks outside their household, and 30% are gathering with someone who is not vaccinated.

“A large majority of Americans are gathering with friends and family for Thanksgiving this year, but who is at the table differs by vaccination status,” the survey found.

The number is much higher among unvaccinated respondents, with 56% planning to get together with those who haven’t had COVID-19 shots, compared with 22% of those surveyed who were vaccinated, according to the most recent Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index, which has routinely surveyed the behaviors and beliefs of Americans throughout the pandemic.

Another 38% said the people they’d be seeing during the holiday weren’t regularly wearing masks in public places and 21% didn’t know whether those they’d be gathering were masking routinely; 20% of respondents said someone they’d be celebrating with is considered high-risk for contracting COVID-19, according to the poll.

The perception of risk this Thanksgiving has diminished significantly from this time last year, when COVID-19 vaccines weren’t available: The survey found 31% considered gathering with family or friends to be a “large/moderate risk,” as opposed to 64% who felt this way during Thanksgiving 2020.

Yet the return to more traditional Thanksgiving routines comes as many scientists and medical experts are urging caution, particularly in areas such as Illinois and much of the Midwest, where COVID rates have been climbing.

Chicago’s top doctor earlier this week advised folks who are unvaccinated to “think about not gathering at the holidays,” or at least get tested prior to gatherings.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady had added that unvaccinated individuals who do attend indoor celebrations should wear masks and social distance.

The warning comes as city COVID-19 rates are steadily rising, with 584 cases reported Wednesday compared to 515 the previous week. The citywide positivity rate was 3%, up from 2.7%.

Illinois health officials reported a statewide positivity rate of 4.1% Wednesday, up from 3.8% on Nov 19. Across the state, 1,982 patients were reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19: 384 were in the ICU and 150 were on ventilators, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Thanksgiving gatherings also might be larger compared to last year, according to recent poll by Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Around the same time last year, 53% of respondents reported planning “smaller-than-usual gatherings,” compared with 31% who say their celebrations will be smaller than typical this year.

Roughly a quarter of Americans this year say they’ll be spending the holiday alone or with their own households, a decrease from 45% who responded similarly last year.

Only 16% of those polled said loved ones would be joining them remotely via Zoom or video, as opposed to nearly a quarter who did so last Thanksgiving, according to the survey, which was conducted in early November by the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

AAA also predicts more Americans will travel this holiday — a higher risk activity in terms of spread of the virus — compared to Thanksgiving 2020.

The nonprofit association forecasts 53.4 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 47.1 million in 2020 but not quite as high as the 56 million travelers during the last pre-pandemic Thanksgiving in 2019.

“With 6.3 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers — people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded,” AAA said in a written statement.

AAA expects a rise in all forms of travel — car and airplane trips, as well as bus, train and cruise ship travel — this year compared to 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying travel until fully vaccinated; those who are not fully vaccinated and must travel should be tested for COVID-19 before and after the trip.

Wearing a mask is required in all indoor areas of public travel for everyone regardless of vaccination status, according to the CDC.

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