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July 4th Travel Hits COVID Realities

A group of friends hang out at Hammonasset Beach State Park Friday to kick off the Memorial Day weekend.
Cloe Poisson
Hammonasset Beach State Park is due to be open this weekend, but visitors are warned that capacity will be limited. This file photo shows the same beach during Memorial Day weekend this year.

What’s typically known as a busy holiday travel weekend will look a little different this year. Many people may opt for road trips that don’t take them too far from home this Fourth of July.

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Vinny Orlando will not be spending the Fourth in Arizona as planned.

“We had it all planned out where we wouldn’t be around too many people,” he said. “With the airlines leaving the middle seat open we thought it was a safe decision to go, and obviously with the restrictions, we had to pull back on it.”

Orlando, who lives in Norwalk, has canceled his trip and will celebrate with a barbecue on Long Island instead.

There is a list of 16 states with COVID infection rates over 10%, including Arizona. Anyone planning to travel back to Connecticut, New Jersey or New York from these states must quarantine for 14 days.

Orlando, a special education teacher and part-time personal trainer, says the trip wasn’t worth making those he worked with feel uncomfortable.

“I didn’t want to be a risk. I didn’t want to be a concern to anybody,” he said.

According to AAA, this year will see the first decline in Fourth of July travel since the summer of 2009. Travel by air is expected to drop 74% and travel by cruise or train, 86%. Road trips will be most popular.

Connecticut State Police say they’re gearing up as they usually do for a holiday weekend, but they're anticipating increased traffic as people travel to visit loved ones they may not have seen during the pandemic.

Troopers will conduct DUI patrols through the evening of July 5. 

“We are hoping that drivers are going to leave the house a little early in case there is traffic, being that there’s going to be more cars out on the road,” said Trooper First Class Pedro Muñiz.

Muñiz said a video of how stops are conducted to maintain safety amid the pandemic is available online.

Fran Mayko from AAA Northeast said the organization’s surveys indicate that 97% of people traveling will drive to a destination this summer.

“There is an interest in going back to nature, state parks,” she said. “People are going to be heading up to state and national parks. The national park closest to us in this area is Acadia up in Maine.”

Just in time for the holiday weekend, Maine has removed its restrictions on other Northeast states. Until recently the state had required visitors to submit a certificate of compliance as they checked into accommodations. Anyone coming from states other than New Hampshire or Vermont would have had to quarantine for 14 days or have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival.

“You have to plan, you have to research,” advised Mayko. “You need to know if you are crossing state lines what the restrictions are in neighboring states. Most folks it looks like are going to stay within their particular state.”

Randy Fiveash, director of Connecticut’s Office of Tourism, said his department’s research also shows people are staying closer to home.

“Most of our visitors come from nearby states,” he said. “They are not currently impacted by the travel advisory, for example, so they want to get out and enjoy the available offerings, the outdoor dining.”

Connecticut has one of the lowest COVID infection rates in the country, and 95% of its businesses are back open, but Fiveash said he doesn’t know whether this summer will necessarily bring in more tourists. Still, he said the state’s tourism industry shouldn’t suffer.

“People are going to travel. They are eager to travel,” he said. ”They want to get out of their homes and such in Massachusetts, in Boston and New York. They want to get out here in Connecticut as well.”

State parks, especially those on the shoreline, are expected to be busy, but officials will continue to limit capacity to encourage social distancing. 

Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, warned that most parks fill by 9:30 a.m., and if people aren’t in the parking lot, they can’t come in.

“Absolutely please don’t park on a nearby road and try to walk in,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “We are asking for everybody’s cooperation. It puts a lot of stress on our nearby communities. Please come back and visit it on a different day, a different time.”

Dykes said beach blankets should be kept at least 15 feet apart, and masks should be worn outside if people cannot maintain 6 feet of distance.

Additional reporting by Olivia Hickey.

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