MILWAUKEE — Even with doctors urging people to stay home for Thanksgiving, millions of Americans are on the move for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Travel hubs in Milwaukee are far less busy than they would normally be on Thanksgiving Eve.
A Hiawatha Amtrak train headed to Chicago on Wednesday morning has less than 30 passengers on board, up to six times fewer passengers than it would normally carry, according to Amtrak representative Marc Magliari.
Inside the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, most seats in the waiting area of the lobby are empty on a day when lines would normally snake through the lobby and even out onto the curb outside on the day before Thanksgiving.
"Normally, our second biggest day of the year is Thanksgiving Eve, It's not going to be that way this year. Normally our single biggest day of the year is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, probably not going to be that way this year either," said Magliari about Amtrak.
Amtrak says ridership nationally is down to about 20% of what it normally is, even despite increased focused on cleanliness and safety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Right now, there are fewer Amtrak trips that run through Milwaukee because of the pandemic, and there have been more than half as many passengers riding on trains through Milwaukee year-to-date.
Since the pandemic began, more than 2,000 Amtrak employees have been laid off or temporarily furloughed. The company spokesman said it remains uncertain how federal funding will shape out over the next month.
Regardless, the impact that COVID-19 is having on travel is significant. Magliari spent time during a press conference on Tuesday supporting the efforts by health officials encouraging people to stay home this Thanksgiving, if possible.
"The federal government, state government, local governments have all been saying do not travel unless they have to and do what a lot of us are doing, which is having Thanksgiving in our little pods tomorrow," said Magliari.
Still, millions are on the move and it's shaping up to be America's busiest travel season since the start of the pandemic.
"I have never missed a Thanksgiving with my family," said Amtrak passenger Payton Bass, who was boarding a train to Chicago on Wednesday.
She felt comfortable with the mask-wearing and social distancing protocols in place.
Jordan Lucas and Lexi Flores are best friends who traveled from Chicago to Milwaukee on the train to catch a bus to Green Bay.
"There was nobody really on the train with us, we were the only people in the cart, but the buses will probably be a little different," said Flores, who admitted she is a little worried as she embarks on a trip to see her Grandma for Thanksgiving. To her, the trip is worth the risk.
"Nobody else is going out to see her and none of her grandkids are other than me and I didn't want her to spend it alone,"
Even with safety precautions in place, doctors continue to insist that the safest option this Thanksgiving is to stay home and celebrate with people who live in the same household.