January 20, 2022

Safe holiday travel

From tire pressure to COVID tests, you need to prepare

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Dennis Buccina, left, of Oswego, and a fellow traveler enter the Interstate 81 rest stop in Preble on Tuesday. Buccina, his wife Joyce and a co-worker from Burritt Motors spent the day delivering a vehicle to a customer.

Alejandra Vazquez and her family pulled into a parking space Tuesday morning at Interstate 81’s Preble rest area for a much-needed break to stretch their legs after 5 hours of driving.

“I have a cousin that lives in Toronto, and my family is visiting from Colombia, so we’re driving up to Canada and then coming back to spend Christmas at my house in New Jersey,” Vazquez said. They’re getting a two-day head start on the surge of holiday travel expected later this week.

Celebrating during a pandemic means Vazquez and her family each took COVID tests before going on their trip.

“People need to make sure that they are practicing safe prevention and mitigation strategies when they come together for the holidays,” said Cortland County Public Health Director Nicole Anjeski.

Although the Delta variant of coronavirus is the main variant circulating through Cortland County at the moment, Anjeski said the increasing number of confirmed Omicron cases could soon arrive — it is already the dominant variant across America, accounting for more than 70% of the new cases.

Anjeski encourages people to continue wearing masks when in public places, avoid hosting or attending gatherings with people outside of their household, and get tested and isolate if they experience symptoms. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death, she said.

“If you are going to get together with others outside your household during the holidays, consider having gatherings where there is a well-ventilated space and you can practice social distancing,” Anjeski said.

This is the first Christmas in years that Vazquez has been able to spend with her family.

“My husband and I, we’re always spending our holidays alone because we don’t have family here at all,” Vazquez said. “I usually don’t have my mom with me, because she lives in another country. I’m happy that my family was able to come here this year.”

Despite the risk, the American Automobile Association expects more than 109 million people to travel for the holidays — a 34% increase from last year.

“Our numbers are going to come really right within pre-pandemic levels — we expect this year’s numbers to be about 92% of 2019 levels, so things would be just about back to normal,” said Elizabeth Carey, director of public relations at AAA Western and Central New York. “A lot of people are taking extra precautions, as they should be, regarding the pandemic and the ongoing COVID situation.”

AAA expects to assist as many as 1.3 million travelers with roadside breakdowns between Thursday and Jan. 2, said AAA Dispatch Manager Dan Fisher.

Fisher recommends drivers get their cars inspected before traveling long distances. In particular, check the battery, alternator, tire pressure and coolant.

“These are very quick checks that people can do — they can call us to have it scheduled, you can drive into your local repair shop to have that battery and charging system checked — it’s a way to give you a lot of peace of mind,” Fisher said.

AAA’s COVID-restriction map, found at triptik.aaa.com, can help travelers stay up-to-date on safety regulations and plan their route to avoid extra stops.

Oswego resident Dennis Buccina, his wife Joyce and his Burritt Motors co-worker Ed Vivlemore made a quick stop at the Preble rest area Tuesday on their way to deliver a new truck to a customer.

Joyce Buccina said she and her husband won’t travel much more this week — they just needed to get this trip done before the holiday.

But after nearly two years of COVID-19 restrictions and following safety guidelines, Joyce Buccina said she’s most excited to get together with her family.

“My family’s all in Oswego, so we don’t have to go anyplace for Christmas,” she said. Throughout the pandemic, her family has taken precautions to stay safe before meeting. “I’m the oldest of six girls, but since the house isn’t that big we have to get together in shifts.”