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U.S. travelers hit the road again with Memorial Day holiday still subdued by pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Visitors fun into the pool as tourists flock to Las Vegas ahead of Memorial Day weekend at Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Bridget Bennett/File Photo

With half the country at least partially protected against the coronavirus, Americans were fleeing their pandemic doldrums over the three-day holiday weekend that traditionally unleashes the country’s pent-up wanderlust at the doorstep of summer.

But the Memorial Day holiday on Monday is also a solemn occasion for remembering the country’s war dead, and many of this year’s military ceremonies are still being held virtually.

The biggest commemoration, the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington which was presented all online last year as the virus raged, is returning somewhat back to normal this year with a mix of in-person and virtual events, organizers said.

Instead of a traditional parade on Constitution Avenue before 100,000 spectators, the march was filmed on May 3 on the National Mall with no onlookers and will be blended with other taped performers in a special television program.

“We’re fully expecting to be returning to normal next year,” said Kenny Cunningham, a spokesman for the American Veterans Center.

Staten Island is set to have one of the country’s relatively few live-and-in-person parades on Monday with floats and marching bands.

Also, on Memorial Day, whose origins date back to the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, which ended in 1865, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to take part in a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Travel expected up 60%

A year after Memorial Day weekend travel was depressed by fears of the spreading COVID-19 virus, it is forecast to jump by 60%, with 37 million people expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, AAA Travel said.

The 2021 total, which is still 13% below 2019, includes 34.4 million people traveling by car, the AAA said.

One of them is Patty Doxsey, 63, of Red Hook, New York, who was set to take a 10-hour drive with her husband on Monday for a week-long camping stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee in hopes of seeing a synchronous firefly light show.

The couple, both vaccinated, had planned to go last year until the pandemic scotched their trip, she said.

“I am so excited,” said Doxsey, a reporter for the Daily Freeman in Kingston. “It has been a long, long year, and we like to travel.”

By Sunday, 50.5% of Americans had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases has plummeted from a seven-day average of more than 250,000 a day in early January to about 18,900 on Saturday, the lowest number since the ascent of the pandemic in March 2020, the CDC said.

A vaccinated-only family wedding prompted World Bank consultant Deborah Zabarenko, 68, of Bethesda, Maryland, to take a four-day road trip to Columbus, Ohio, with her sister on Sunday, her first overnight trip away from home in eight months.

“I need a little windshield time, just looking at the road, talking to my sister and getting where we’re going,” she said just before leaving.

Air travel is also making a comeback as nearly 1.96 million people passed through U.S. airports on Friday, the most since March 7, 2020, according to Transportation Security Administration data.

Top Memorial Day travel destinations this year are Las Vegas and Orlando, AAA said.

The State Department is strongly discouraging foreign travel, including to Mexico and Canada, having issued “Do Not Travel” advisories for more than 150 countries, mostly because of high rates of COVID-19.

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