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Coronavirus increasing ‘staycations’

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Esma Corey of Duncansville casts a line while fishing at Canoe Creek State Park on Monday afternoon.

As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches into summer and many popular travel destinations are closed or operating on a reduced schedule — area residents are altering vacation plans, opting instead for a “staycation,” exploring more of what the area has to offer while minimizing the risk of being exposed to the virus.

‘At a standstill’

Karen Kurtz, owner of Ketrow-Kurtz Travel LLC, has been sending people around the world for 42 years. Kurtz said that in all her years in the travel industry there have been events that temporarily restricted travel but nothing compares to what COVID-19 has done.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she said. “Everybody is just at a standstill at the moment waiting to see what will happen.”

Kurtz said she normally books cruises for summer travelers, and although a lot of people had already made their reservations when the pandemic hit, this year the ships will be stuck in dry dock.

“At the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, cruises were going month to month,” she said. “But now, Royal Caribbean has suspended cruises up to Sept. 15 and the Canadian cruises are postponed until October.”

Kurtz said it would almost be impossible to socially distance on a cruse ship with thousands of people on board.

“One cruise that I was on held about 6,800 people,” she said. “So, one ship holding that amount and with the number of cruise companies, it’s a major situation.”

With cruises canceled and borders being shut down, domestic travel could see an increase, but Kurtz cautions that might not be a safe alternative.

Kurtz said popular travel destinations like Florida, Arizona, California and Myrtle Beach are hot beds of coronavirus and travelers can’t be certain of the cleanliness of accommodations.

“You have to get on a plane or bus, or stay in a hotel,” she said. “I don’t know if I would recommend traveling to those areas. We have to be careful.”

Staying home

Dan and Lisa Litzenberger of Roaring Spring usually take two vacations each year. The couple like to travel to Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie, tour Amish country in Lancaster or take in the sights at Port Clinton, Ohio. Lisa Litzenberger said taking to the road is a yearly tradition for the couple, but this year they have opted to stay home.

“Coronavirus is the reason we are staying home,” she said.

She and Dan talked at length about whether to go away this summer but they ultimately decided not to risk it.

“We talked about it and we feel that, you know, we have family, friends and coworkers and didn’t want to go somewhere and risk bringing anything back to anybody,” she said.

Lisa, who manages a restaurant and has been on the front lines of the pandemic, said even if she follows all of the safety guidelines like wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent handwashing, it’s not knowing if everyone else is doing the same that worries her.

“We can be as safe as we need to be, but you don’t know if you pump gas, open the hotel door, the restaurant door or hold the railing at the zoo if they have been properly cleaned,” she said. “We can’t be sure if these places are being as diligent with their cleaning as we are.”

Opting for a staycation, the Litzenbergers will be spending plenty of time on their boat at Lake Raystown. Although they look forward to getting away each year, Lisa said she is not too disappointed to be staying home.

“There are plenty of things to explore here at home, and this will give us the opportunity to do that,” she said. “Dan and I like our time alone together. We look forward to getting away, but we will still have our time together doing things closer to home.”

Plenty of options

Mark Ickes, executive director of Explore Altoona, said a majority of travel and tourism experts say that, like the Litzenbergers, many families are looking to stay closer to home this summer. Ickes said this is the perfect time to get acquainted with what the area has to offer.

“Blair County is positioned strongly with a variety of authentic experiences for local residents to enjoy a memorable and calming escape closer to home,” he said.

Ickes cited the reimagined Lakemont Park as a place where families can get together and enjoy activities such as miniature golf, go karts or a leisurely paddle boat ride on the lake.

Ickes said area historical and outdoor venues offer up a world of opportunities all within driving distance.

“Canoe Creek State Park offers 911 acres of exploration,” he said. “The Lower Trail, a crucial part of the September 11 National Memorial Trail, offers great hiking and biking opportunities, and the world-famous Horseshoe Curve will be open for train watching.”

Deb Winterscheidt, director of development and member services for the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, said with more people opting to stay home, the Johnstown Flood Museum has seen an uptick in visitors.

“We opened back up in mid-June, three days a week, but because of the increased traffic through the museums, we have expanded it to five days,” she said.

Winterscheidt said that although the pandemic has hurt some local events with the cancellation of Thunder in the Valley and the Flood City Music Festival, it is giving people a reason to explore other areas of the region.

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