California calls for temporary halt on non-essential travel during virus surge

California health officials on Thursday began calling for a temporary halt to non-essential travel, hoping to slow the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases as the holiday travel season approaches.

“Today’s message is not about how do we mix safely. It’s about how we reduce our mixing all together," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health & Human Services Secretary.

State health officials say staying home could be the best gift of the season.

At Oakland International Airport, terminals were quiet without the usual crowds. Many travelers say their holiday plans are being canceled.

"It's going to be a very small Christmas. I'm just out here for business and seeing a couple family members but nothing for the holidays," said Madison Diepstraten of Orange County.

Holiday gatherings also are being reconsidered.

"A girlfriend of mine, her husband went to a party and he ended up with COVID," said Sabina Young, who flew into Oakland from Los Angeles for a funeral.

Travel agents say they've been trying to handle all the requests to change or cancel plans due to pandemic travel restrictions.

"People plan their December holidays a year in advance," said Renate Bussell, a travel advisor with Four Points Travel in Concord, "There's been a lot of time on the phone with vendors canceling, a lot of time on the phone with clients who are very unhappy that we can't get their money back right away."

Bussell says many people are snatching up deals, but not for this year. They are booking for 2021 or 2022.

"They have specials that are going on right now and they're very lenient with their cancellation and rebooking just because everything is so uncertain right now," said Bussell.

The state says more stay-at-home travel restrictions will kick in if any of the state's five regions drop below 15% ICU capacity.

Hotels and lodging will be open for critical infrastructure support only.

Camping also would not be permitted.

A trip to sites for outdoor recreation, such as Tahoe ski resorts, however, might be possible.

"We know that skiing and riding will be open even with the stay-at-home order," said Michael Reitzell, president of Ski California, which represents all ski areas in California and Nevada. Reitzell says they will be requiring 100% mask compliance.

The state says no food, drink or alcohol sales will be allowed.

"This is the year of know before you go. It's not the year to sit around at a table at ten o'clock at night and say hey let's head up to the mountain tomorrow. You really have to have a plan of where you're going to go," said Reitzell, "Is there a reservation system? Is it limited to pass holders only? These are the things guests are going to need to know."

The state's minimize the coronavirus' spread and COVID19 deaths during the holidays.

Marcos Balderas a traveler at Oakland International Airport coming from Arlington, Texas said restrictions would be hard, but his family understands the pain of the pandemic.

"We already lost two family members from COVID. It's a serious thing. Most people think it's a game but it's not a game. It's reality," said Balderas.

State officials recommend you stay in your county if you can. Don’t drive more than 2-3 hours from home.

Anyone coming in from outside the state should self-quarantine for 14 days when returning.

READ: California's new, regional stay-at-home order 

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or