Birds of a feather

David and Delores Forkey enjoy spending their winters in California and returning to Minnesota just before June. The Forkeys and other “snowbirds” have expressed concerns about returning to their winter homes during the pandemic.

As flocks of geese are taking to the skies to head south for the winter, so too are local “snowbirds” preparing to take off for summer homes in warmer climates. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a slump in air travel this year, with five airlines declaring bankruptcy or closing since March, domestic air travel down 63% and international air travel down 81%, and while many summer Otter Tail County residents are keeping their plans to head south this winter, others are thinking twice.

“We don’t know if we’re going to go yet or not,” said Jan Mindeman. She and her husband Merlyn have been going to South Padre Island, Texas for the last 13 or so years. Originally they would vacation there for two weeks but started staying for about two months at a time since retiring in 2015. “I don’t want to get COVID. We’ll wait and see what happens by December how bad it is down there, because Texas is pretty heavy right now.”

Texas has one of the highest COVID-19 case volumes in the country and their per capita case rate puts them in the top highest sixteen states. The Mindemans were there in March this year when the pandemic was announced for the U.S. “After it got announced that they were probably going to shut down things, we left and came home where it was safer,” Jan said.

Delores Forkey was also away when the pandemic was announced. She and her husband David spend their winters in Carmichael, California, just outside of Sacramento. While they typically return to Minnesota in May, the pandemic meant they could not return until the middle of June.

The Forkeys have been splitting the year between California and Minnesota since about 2006, although they originally lived and worked in California. Returning this winter, pandemic or not, isn’t even a question for Delores: “I have a job back there that I have to do, I’m a manager at a food closet, an operation like the one in Fergus Falls, the food shelf. I have to go back,” she says.

Although they normally drive to California, Delores says she wouldn’t be afraid to fly if she had to. “I’m not a real good flyer anyway, but I think that, just from everything I’ve heard, I would feel safer flying right now because I think they’re super cleaning the cabins and have a pretty good filtering system,” she said.

They take precautions when driving, though, because while they might not be deterred from traveling outright, they want to stay safe doing it. “We don’t go out to eat when we drive, we have a lot of our own food along and then we go through drive-thrus, so we minimize contact with people on the way,” Delores said. “We rented motels that had no carpeting, that just had hardwood floors, which is easier to clean.”

When making travel plans, the CDC recommends people consider factors like how COVID-19 is spreading at your destination, whether or not you live with someone at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 or whether you yourself are at increased risk, as well as checking to see if your destination has requirements or restrictions for travelers. States like Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and DC all have requirements or restrictions related to COVID-19 with some mandating 14 days of quarantine upon arrival. The city of Chicago and many Native American reservations also have special restrictions or requirements.

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