To drive or not to drive?
With gas prices soaring and COVID-19 cases, that’s the question for Southern Californians this Memorial Day weekend.
Beth Probeus and her family of four take the plunge and head south to San Diego. Her adventures, she said, will include plenty of fresh air.
“We’re only comfortable with outdoor activities when Covid numbers rise,” the Mission Viejo resident and teacher said Thursday.
You will be among thousands of local residents visiting attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park and the new Sesame Place theme park.
More than two years into the pandemic, pent-up demand for travel is forcing millions of Californians to hit the road, said Ryan Becker, spokesman for Visit California.
“I want to get out, I want to travel,” he said, giving countless reasons for leaving the city. “I had to put my anniversary trip on hold, I had to put my 40th birthday trip on hold.”
Anaheim and its main attraction Disneyland, in case you were wondering, is one of the top destinations for out of town visitors.
The Automobile Club of Southern California predicts 3.1 million people will be traveling in the area this weekend, including about 2.6 million by car. Another 320,000 are expected to fly, clogging parking lots around airports.
Related: Delta is canceling flights to “relieve” pressure on operations.
Nationwide, AAA estimates 39.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the course of the holiday weekend.
Those projections — which include travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation like trains or cruise ships — are up 8.3% from 2021 and would bring Memorial Day travel close to 2017 levels. Estimates are still below pre-pandemic levels in 2019, a peak year for travel.
Gas prices in Southern California flattened this week after climbing to all-time highs. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline hovered around $6.09 in Los Angeles County and down south in Orange County around $6.05. Inland Empire prices were just under $6 at $5.97 a gallon.
At a Chevron gas station in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ricardo Estrada tried to guess how much the $6.49 a gallon Nissan work truck would cost him in total.
“I’ll take between $60 and $70,” the HVAC technician speculated, eyeing the display as the price continued to climb.
Estrada — who narrowly missed his guess when the pump registered $71.61 for 11 gallons of regular quality — has been forced to increase its business fees to customers in a bid to beat gas prices. He will be working over the bank holiday weekend but has planned a vacation to Arizona next month.
He flies, but only for convenience, not for reasons of cost.
But airline ticket prices have also risen — AAA has noted that the average lowest airfare for this weekend is 6% higher than last year — that’s not a safe bet either.
For others, vacation plans have already been derailed by COVID-19.
Anaheim resident Tina Ly Johnston and her family of three have canceled plans to attend a birthday party in San Diego on Monday after the birthday children in question contracted the virus.
“We’re going to hide out here at home and have a pool party with my sister’s family,” Johnston said.
The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across California, particularly in Los Angeles County, where hospitals are likely to soon be overwhelmed with patients, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
As of Thursday, 6,245 COVID infections were reported in the county. Over the past seven days, the county has averaged more than 4,200 new infections per day, and the rate of people testing positive for the virus daily rose to 4.1% from 3.8% the day before.
While those numbers are well below the level of the “high” category, Ferrer noted that “if we continue on current course, we could find cases and hospitalizations that will weigh on our hospital system in just a few weeks.”
Overall, California reported an average of 11,200 cases per day in the week ending May 17 — the most recent week with reliable data. That’s double the cases from just three weeks earlier and more than five times the recent low of about 2,100 cases per day in the week ended March 21.
Memorial Day Travel Advice
According to the Auto Club, this year will be the fourth busiest Memorial Day travel weekend after 2005, 2018, and 2019.
For Southern California residents, Mexico, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park, San Diego and Santa Barbara/Central Coast are expected to be the top destinations. The top destination for air travelers will be Hawaii, according to the Auto Club.
Anaheim is projected to be the fifth most popular destination for domestic travelers.
Friday is expected to be the busiest day of traffic congestion on local highways, with most likely double the normal Friday afternoon volume.
At LAX, airport officials on Wednesday said parking structures had already reached capacity, with some already filled, particularly those closest to Tom Bradley International Terminal and Terminals 3, 4 and 5.
LAX travelers can reserve parking in advance at parking.flylax.com.
Editors Samantha Gowen and Nikie Johnson, City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.