COVID surge hits Illinois during final countdown to Christmas; Chicago traffic still expected

Omicron air travel: Over 109M expected to take to roads, skies between Thursday, Jan. 3 as new variant spreads

ByMaher Kawash and Stephanie Wade WLS logo
Thursday, December 23, 2021
Despite COVID surge, millions still traveling by air, road this holiday season
O'Hare Airport will welcome nearly 2.5 million passengers between December 31st and January 3rd, according to Chicago aviation.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just two days from Christmas, there is a surge in COVID cases, but nothing seems to be stopping folks from being with their friends and family this holiday.

Illinois is reporting its second highest daily count since the pandemic began, with more than 16,500 new cases, and test positivity is up to 7.9%.

There were also 66 COVID-related deaths as of Wednesday.

There have been long lines of people rushing to get tested before traveling to see family.

RELATED: Omicron symptoms: Early indicators suggest variant causes mild COVID

At O'Hare Airport, TSA is screening close to pre-pandemic travel volumes making Thursday both the busiest day on the road and in the air.

The roads around Chicago are expected to be busiest Thursday between noon and 6 p.m., and Interstate 290 west is likely to be the busiest expressway.

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, O'Hare will welcome nearly 2.5 million passengers between December 31st and January 3rd. That's a 168% increase over last year's numbers.

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is not keeping people away.

"I was skeptical," said Denise Taylor who is travelling to San Francisco. "So I waited to the last minute to get my ticket but I know they (my kids) wanted to see me."

"Not withstanding COVID and the long lines, this was where we wanted to be for the holidays," said Allan DiSciullo who is travelling from New Jersey. "Despite it all, we are troopers."

AAA expects Thursday to be the busiest time to travel both in the air and on the road, as millions head to their Christmas destinations.

"Here in Illinois, 5.5 million people will be traveling. Of that 5.5, 5.1 are going to get in their cars. So again, it's going to be busy at the airports and busy on the roads," said Molly Hart, AAA Spokesperson.

According to AAA, 28 million more people are traveling this holiday season compared to last year.

Hart said many people do typically choose to go by car during the holidays, but since the pandemic, numbers have increased a bit.

"Both nationally and here in Illinois, it is 34% higher amount of people traveling from this year to last year. So you need to be prepared and you need to be patient," said Hart.

Patience is key. AAA also said the worst corridor locally for high traffic is at I-290 west from Morgan Street to Wolf Road. They're estimating 240% over the normal traffic there Thursday.

Vaccinations are now more important than ever as people gather for the holidays and omicron continues to surface.

RELATED: How long should fully vaccinated people with COVID isolate?

"Between delta, which was highly transmissible, and now omicron, which is maybe two or three times more transmissible, a lot of us are going to have, unfortunately, a date with omicron," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health commissioner.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not gathering with unvaccinated people during the holidays.

Hospital beds are also filling up around the area.

At least four Illinois regions, including the one for Will and Kankakee counties are currently in the single digits for the number of ICU beds available.