WASHINGTON -- The Honor Flight Network, which sends veterans to tour the war memorials in Washington, said Thursday it would cancel all trips to the nation's capital through the end of 2020.
Under normal circumstances, the network would have transported about 20,000 to Washington this year, the group estimated. It was on track to reach the milestone of providing 250,000 trips to veterans in the 15 years since Honor Flight was founded.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, the network canceled trips through April 30 and later extended the cancellations through June, then August. The board of directors that governs the network decided to end all trips through 2020 because of the ongoing risks. As of Thursday, more than 2 million Americans had been infected with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people at higher risk for the disease, including older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, avoid nonessential travel. Priority for the honor flights is often given to terminally ill and older veterans, many of whom live in nursing homes.
"Unfortunately, large-group travel is expected to remain a risk for the remainder of the year for the vulnerable population of veterans served by Honor Flight," the organization said in a statement. "The vast majority of these veterans fall into the CDC's high-risk category. Many of the veterans also live in community settings, such as retirement homes or assisted living facilities, where the risk of spreading illness is extremely high."
The Honor Flight Network is made up of 125 chapters that help send veterans in their communities to Washington. Because of the cancellations this year, the chapters are brainstorming other ways to honor veterans. They've arranged card campaigns, virtual birthday celebrations and virtual classroom appearances.
The network believes it will resume flights in 2021.