It’s beginning to look like, well, no holiday season we’ve ever seen – Santa’s donning a mask, Black Friday is now the whole month of November. Even Wrightsville Beach’s popular Holiday Flotilla has been grounded.
Since it began circulating here last spring (the first local case was reported on Friday the 13th of March) COVID-19 has roared through the area like a giant bowling ball, taking out major events and disrupting holidays and major events – including the Azalea Festival, Easter services, Fourth of July festivities and now Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps the virus’s biggest targets yet.
With COVID-19 cases already surging nationwide, health officials are urging holidaymakers to not let down their guard. As much as people want to see family, attend parties and other gatherings, or hit the sales, the best gift you can give – and receive – this year is to take safety guidelines seriously, providers warn.
On the immediate horizon is Thanksgiving. Although not always the busiest air travel day of the year – a handful of summer weekend days are busier – the day before Thanksgiving is consistently in the Top 10.
After the bottom fell out in the early days of the pandemic, passenger numbers at Wilmington International Airport have risen slowly but steadily. Levels are now at around 50% of normal.
The pandemic also has affected the number of destinations and daily flights.
“Last year we had seven destinations and over 20 flights per day each way,” ILM director Julie Wilsey said recently. “This year we are at five nonstop destinations and 14-17 flights per day each way due to COVID.”
The numbers won’t be anywhere close to typical, but Wilsey still expects heavy passenger loads this Thanksgiving, especially on Wednesday and Sunday. The airport’s carriers, American, Delta and United, each have different COVID-19 policies, so travelers should check with their airline. All three do, however, require passengers to wear masks while on board. Masks also must be worn inside the ILM terminal.
Since some people have not flown lately, Wilsey encourages travelers to be sure their IDs have not expired.
“Same with passports,” she said, adding that the requirement to have a Real ID driver’s license or identity card will not be enforced until next October.
The key to a safe and less-stressful flight is to arrive early, Wilsey said. Airlines suggest at least two hours before departure. And remember that with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, rules could change at any time. (A good resource for information is transportation.gov/ flyhealthy
Two popular holiday gifts to the area are still on, but will be delivered in new wrapping paper.
Every holiday season, over a million sparkling lights replace azaleas and camellias as the stars of Airlie Gardens. Enchanted Airlie, which began in 2005 as a fundraiser for the 67-acre (ideal for social distancing) garden oasis carved out along Bradley Creek.
For one, there will be no food and beverage vendors. To keep crowds smaller, it has been spread out over more days – Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 4-22. But there’s coal in the stocking: The seasonal seaside tradition is sold out.
“Ticket sales have been very robust, and we did sell out quickly,” said Janine Powell, director of donor relations at the county-owned park.
By expanding the number of nights and making other admissions changes for the event, Powell said the 2020 edition will be a successful one.
“Enchanted Airlie remains one of our signature fundraising events and we feel very fortunate to be able to have it this year and to not lose the revenue,” Powell said.
(Airlie’s annual oyster roast, the biggest fundraiser for the foundation that supports environmental education programs, was canceled).
Around the bend from Airlie, the N.C. Holiday Flotilla each year transforms the Wrightsville Sound area into a nighttime “holiday parade on water.” Boats trimmed with colorful lights and coastal-holiday themes ply the waters, drawing upward of 50,000 spectators.
Because of the need for social distancing and uncertainty about funding and other resources amid the pandemic, organizers canceled this year’s version of the nearly 40-year-old tradition.
“We were very hesitant to encourage folks to congregate in large crowds ...” board member Linda Brown wrote in a recent announcement.
Although the boats have been grounded, the group is sponsoring a “Door to Dock” decorating contest Nov. 27-28 for docks along the Flotilla route. Boaters can cruise the waterway to take in the scenery. For those stuck ashore, live video will be streamed from a boat and those watching can vote for their favorites via text message.
The COVID-19 outbreak has lasted long enough for retail outlets and restaurants to adapt their business spaces, as well as their business practices, for relatively safe shopping and dining.
From tiny shops that can safely accommodate only a few customers at a time, to larger spaces such as Independence Mall, most businesses are following well-established policies that health officials say are needed to keep people safe and to try to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease.
Certain businesses know they will be popular holiday destinations for virus-weary people longing for a taste of “normal.”
Independence Mall’s website lists a stockingful of ways shoppers can safely enjoy the enclosed center. Spot Holder, for example, allows shoppers to join “virtual waiting lines,” either at the store or from home or elsewhere. Shoppers choose the time they want to start shopping and stores hold the spot.
At Mayfaire Town Center, Santa arrives on Black Friday and is expected to stay through Christmas Eve. But talking with the Jolly Old Elf won’t be the same as previous years.
First of all, shoppers will need to schedule their visits, and can use the center’s online platform, mayfaire.com/content/santa
“You’ll select a date and time, purchase your photo package, and then head to Mayfaire for your pictures. All visitors must wear masks before, during, and after photos,” according to a news release from Mayfaire.
The news release also stated, “Visits will be contactless, with families sitting six feet away to ensure proper distancing.”
Play it Safe for the Holidays
The latest numbers are sobering and getting worse. It’s clear that COVID-19 is not taking a holiday. And with traditional celebrations and gatherings just around the corner, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and elsewhere are advising people to break with – or at least modify – parts of those traditions. Here are some CDC tips for a safer holiday season.
ATTENDING A GATHERING?
HOSTING A GATHERING?
- Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.
- Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
- Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled.
- Use single-use items such as salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items such as food containers, plates and utensils.
- Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
- Limit the number of guests.
- Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
- If celebrating indoors, open windows.
- Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
- Have guests bring their own food and drink.
- If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.
- Check travel restrictions.
- Get your flu shot before you travel.
- Always wear a mask in public settings.
- Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not in your household.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.
- Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
- Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and days leading up to the winter holidays.
- Use contactless services like curbside pick-up.
- Shop in open air markets staying 6 feet away from others.