The newest dominant variant of COVID-19 may be giving some New Jerseyans pause as they finalize their Christmas plans, with state officials urging residents to heed all possible precautions.

But many undoubtedly still plan to travel, and AAA said that those who do will be contributing to a Christmas and New Year's traffic spike which should far outpace that of 2020.

That said, Tracy Noble, AAA Mid-Atlantic manager of public & government affairs, concedes the Omicron situation is changing daily, now with mere hours to go before the rush starts on Christmas Eve.

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"While AAA is predicting a significant bounceback to travel, it might not be back to where it was in 2019. So people are still cautious," Noble said. "We also need to remember that nobody was really moving around last year at this time. Everybody was kind of hunkered down in their homes, keeping to themselves. So we're in a completely different environment."

A more wide-open holiday season, as far as COVID is concerned, is not the only factor contributing to the "pent-up demand" for travel, as Noble put it.

The fact that both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Saturdays, with many businesses "observing" the holidays the Friday before, means that people may call out of work the entire week of Dec. 27, to take a long vacation or continue traveling from one destination to another.

"People are going to visit friends and family," Noble said. "We're just expecting them to be more cautious now than, say, they were at Thanksgiving."

Locally, while Garden State gas prices remain about a dime higher than the national average, the price for a gallon of regular in New Jersey has dropped to $3.40 according to AAA, down 5 cents from Thanksgiving weekend.

Whether or not that cheaper cost plays into a traveler's decision-making as 2021 comes to a close, Noble said holiday visits remain a personal choice, dependent on what each person and those they are seeing are comfortable with.

She does remind New Jerseyans that masks are still required to be worn at all times inside airports and on flights, and onboard NJ Transit trains and buses.

Noble suggests that anyone traveling with people not from their immediate household maintain the masking mindset.

"Even if you are taking a rideshare, if you're taking an Uber or a Lyft, it's recommended that you wear that mask, because you're just protecting yourself and others," she said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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