O'Hare traffic lighter on eve of Thanksgiving holiday
O'Hare International Airport's traditional Thanksgiving travel blockbuster was relatively tame Wednesday, reflecting a 60% drop in passengers across the U.S. compared with 2019 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the nation's busiest airport, lines appeared nonexistent, at least on the morning before the holiday, as many heeded federal and state warnings to eschew flying and large gatherings this Thanksgiving.
Chicagoans Jessica Jimenez and Gina Ibarra were catching a flight to Cancun, where they could socially distance themselves in a hotel after their family get-together was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"If you can't be with family, then we can be at the same hotel in Cancun together," Jimenez said.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration reported a 62.5% decrease in people at airport security checkpoints Tuesday -- 912,090 travelers in contrast with 2.4 million a year ago -- and a 59% decline on Monday.
At a Wednesday briefing, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike threw further cold water on holiday revels.
"We don't want anybody's Thanksgiving dinner to turn into a COVID-19 super-spreader event," Ngozi said. "Our goal is to protect and not infect those that we love and care for. My fear is that two weeks from now, we'll start seeing a new spike in cases or hospitalizations because people from various households gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving."
Still, as of Saturday, nearly 3.9 million Americans had passed through checkpoints, the TSA recorded.
The Chicago Department of Aviation typically issues a news release Thanksgiving week projecting passenger volume and identifying the busiest day at O'Hare and Midway International Airport.
This year, the agency's announcement centered on rules about face masks and social distancing, plus updates on plexiglass shields for workers, enhanced sanitation and ventilation. The city has enlisted employees to monitor compliance, handing out more than 5,200 masks so far.
"In these unique times, travelers also need to understand they have a role to play, and are required to wear a face covering and practice social distancing at the airports," Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said in a statement.
• Daily Herald reporter Brian Hill contributed to this report.