Set a place for Zoom: Many suburbanites will forgo traditional Thanksgiving trips this year
Traditionally, this is the week Curt Alliaume packs his family into the car and steers toward Washington, D.C., for a Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings -- including a house packed with relatives.
But in a COVID-19 world, he's staying home.
"We would have to self-quarantine for two weeks if we traveled there. We'll have a Zoom Thanksgiving instead," the Naperville resident said.
Typically, "the Thanksgiving meal is hosted by our brother-in-law's parents, and it's amazing. But this year, we've all agreed to follow the rules," Alliaume said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control would applaud that plan and warned last week that travel increases the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 -- as does a lengthy meal with others outside your immediate circle.
If he did drive east, Alliaume would pass from Illinois, where the seven-day average test positivity rate is 12%, to Indiana -- 12.5%, Ohio -- 12.7%, and Pennsylvania, where it's 24.6%, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
The state with the lowest test positivity rate is Maine with 2.1%, while the highest is South Dakota with 52.5%, according to Johns Hopkins. Illinois' neighbors are all in double digits: Iowa is at 48.6%; Missouri is at 23.5%; Wisconsin is at 16%; Michigan is 11.7%; and Kentucky is 10.2%.
A Daily Herald Facebook survey of readers showed many changed long-standing travel plans to feast at home but set a place for Zoom to link them with loved ones. Those decisions reflect AAA's projections of an almost 15% drop in 2020 Thanksgiving trips in Illinois compared to 2019.
Diane Pedersen's adult sons won't be driving from Nashville or flying from Los Angeles this year.
"My in-laws normally host a small dinner (under 10) with an open house after" for other relatives, Pedersen said. "This year, it will be just my husband and me at our house. Our dinner will still be good, as my husband likes cooking, but there will be too many leftovers."
It's the tough but safe choice, Pedersen explained. "The Nashville son is a salesman, so can't pre-isolate. The Los Angeles son could pre-isolate, but could easily be infected during the long plane trip. The in-laws live in a nearby retirement community; they're not fully isolated from other residents and staff. If we get infected while grocery-shopping, we could infect them," she explained.
"We can't figure out a way to guarantee to keep everyone safe, especially with the positivity skyrocketing," the Naperville resident said.
Suzanne Chalifoux-Grochecki of Fox River Grove usually spends the holiday visiting other family members in the region, but "plans changed," she said. "Only our family of four, due to COVID-19. We are being very cautious, especially with the grandparents."
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You should know
Metra officials threw the dice when approving their 2021 budget recently and blamed the pandemic for decreasing ridership by 90%.
The fiscal plan estimates a $70 million shortfall that leaders hope will be offset by federal aid, although Congress has yet to agree on another COVID-19 relief package.
The total operating budget is $700 million, reflecting the decline in fares, although sales tax revenues show signs of reviving, the financial staff said. Metra is not increasing fares next year but may need to cut train service if no federal help materializes.
The agency's $386.4 million capital projects budget is in better shape thanks to a gas tax increase in 2019.
These days, it's hard to be an easy rider, Metra Union Pacific Northwest Line commuter Jason Kart of Glenview wrote. "UP closed the front and back cars for the one conductor on the train, so there is less room for passengers," he said. "I've (sometimes) witnessed people with no masks, bikes in the aisle, threatening other passengers, smoking weed, (and) playing music -- since the conductors won't walk the train. Then, we all bunch up at Ogilvie Transportation Center because that's where they check tickets. This is a stark contrast compared to my four years riding the train prior to the pandemic."
Good news on the Edens Expressway: The Illinois tollway is wrapping up a $109 million improvement project on the Edens Spur and last week opened all lanes to the 57,000 vehicles that use it daily. Work included fixing bridges at Pfingsten and Waukegan roads, building a median, new lighting, and replacing asphalt.
Reducing I-55 crashes
IDOT is taking public comments on improvements to two high-crash interchanges on I-55 in southern Will County: Route 129 and Lorenzo Road. Information is available online at i55lorenzoil129outreach.org, and the public can offer opinions through Dec. 14. The project cost is estimated at $148 million and would reconstruct both interchanges and add more connecting lanes on I-55. IDOT will also take questions at (847) 705-4569.