The questions from potential tourists in the time of Covid-19 usually start like this: Is everything open? Is there a mask mandate? Is the beach open? Do I have to quarantine?

For snowbirds pondering coming to Sarasota-Manatee for the season, it's an anxious and uncertain time. So much is up in the air. And there is the inevitable question of what will happen if they do contract Covid-19, far from home and their regular medical resources.

Those concerns, plus the land-border closure to all nonessential road traffic between Canada and the United States, are the two biggest issues for prospective Canadian visitors, says Kelly Defebo, Visit Sarasota County’s director of sales.

So how many snowbirds have actually headed out to the Sunshine State despite everything?

That’s hard to pinpoint, Defebo says.

Visit Sarasota County tracks the total number of visitors who come to the area, rather than delineating snowbirds specifically. But the numbers for October 2020 tell a pretty clear story: in October 2019, Sarasota saw 4,780 visitors from Canada. In October 2020, there were only 1,000. That’s a drop of almost 80 percent.

To get more information, Visit Sarasota County partnered with SnowbirdAdvisor.ca, which offers travel resources for potential Canadian snowbirds. The agencies found that 44 percent of snowbirds said they're not going away this winter—but of the ones who are, 50 percent are coming to Florida.

“It’s a bit of a mixed bag,” Defebo says.

However, Canadian snowbirds who are determined to come to Sarasota no matter the Covid-19 climate will have trouble finding a nonstop flight. Air Canada originally scheduled its nonstop flights between Toronto and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport to return in October, but that date kept getting pushed back. Now it's scheduled to return in late January.

Whatever loss Sarasota has seen from its snowbird population, it has made up for—in some ways—from in-state travelers wanting a staycation. From October 2019 to October 2020, in-state visitation—that is, Florida residents coming to Sarasota from other parts of the state—was up 42 percent. Those travelers frequently hailed from major metropolitan areas like Tampa, Orlando and Naples.

And that same need to travel is reflected in Sarasota Bradenton International Airport’s passenger numbers. Although traffic for November 2020 was just 58 percent of what it was this time last year, year-to-date numbers put the airport “well ahead” of the national average, according to airport CEO Rick Piccolo.