In spite of a plea from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay put over Thanksgiving, Americans appear to be traveling to be with family and friends for the holiday.
On Monday and Tuesday, almost a milliontravelers passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports each day.
And according to the Transportation Security Administration, more than a million people flew Sunday, making it the single-busiest day at airport checkpoints since March, when the pandemic began to dramatically affect the airline industry. Friday also saw traffic over 1 million, Monday and Saturday both saw more than 900,000 airline passengers.
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Airports are expected to see their highest pandemic numbers yet when travelers begin the return legs of their Thanksgiving trips.
Altogether, nearly five million travelers have been screened since Friday.
The flock of travelers came after the CDC issued a warning last week urging Americans not to travel this Thanksgivingto avoid spreading the coronavirus at a time when cases are alarmingly high.
“The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying,” said Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, at a news conference last week. “And we don’t want that to happen. These times are tough.”
His point was underscored by the death of a tenth TSA employee to COVID-19. Gabriel Gonzales, a TSA officer at Texas’ Midland International Air and Space Port, died on Saturday. Gonzales had been with the agency for 18 years, joining shortly after its creation in the wake of 9/11.
He was the second TSA officer to die in the last two weeks. A total of 3,200 TSA employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since February. The agency said that there are currently just over 600 active cases in its ranks.
The U.S. saw more than 157,500 new COVID-19 cases and 1,058 deaths in the past week, bringing the country to a cumulative total of 12.3 million cases and 257,016 deaths, according to CDC data. The country averaged 52.3 new cases per 100,000 residents during that time.
Warning: CDC recommends that Americans don’t travel for Thanksgiving
Laurie Pearcy, director of administration for a Minneapolis law firm, planned to fly to New Orleans to attend her daughter’s bridal shower and have a small Thanksgiving dinner with her son.
“I don’t want to unknowingly make anyone sick. But I also don’t want to miss this special event for my only daughter,” she said.
Stephen Browning, a retired executive from Tucson, Arizona, will fly to Seattle for Thanksgiving with his sister. The celebration usually has up to 30 people; this year, only 10 are coming, and everyone was asked to get a coronavirus test. He doesn’t plan on removing his mask to eat or drink on the flight.
“This is my first flight since December 2019, so yes, I have concerns,” he said. “But I think most airlines are acting responsibly now and enforcing masks on all flights.”
But some travelers are rethinking trips.
Josh Holman and his family scrapped plans to fly to Lake Tahoe and spend Thanksgiving with his brother, who lives in San Francisco, and his parents, who live in North Dakota.
“I see it as my civic duty not to spread this virus further,” said Holman, an assistant county prosecutor who lives outside Detroit.
Alejandro Zuniga and his fiancee, Megan Muhs, who live in Costa Rica, thought briefly about flying to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving to see Muhs’ family but decided against it. They also nixed a trip to the USA in December.
“No part of a major international trip seems safe at this point,” Zuniga said. The pair plan to make video calls to family and stream the Detroit Lions football game on Thanksgiving Day.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the industry group U.S. Travel Association, said he expects some people to heed the CDC’s recommendation but noted that AAA projects that 50 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving.
The CDC said the concern is not just with the travel but the resulting large family gatherings around the holiday, which could spread the highly contagious virus.
As for Thanksgiving gathering safety tips, the CDC recommends:
- Bringing your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils.
- Avoiding passing areas where food is being prepared, such as the kitchen.
- Using single-use options, such as salad dressing and condiment packets.
- Using disposable items such as food containers, plates and utensils.
If you plan to host a gathering, the CDC recommends keeping it outdoors, limiting the number of people and having guests bring their own food and drink. If food is shared, the agency suggests having only one person serve it.
Pre-Thanksgiving traffic looks a lot different this year. If you don’t need to travel – do not. For those who do, wear a mask, stay physically distanced and stay safe. #TravelSafely pic.twitter.com/VpQMlR97wB
— LAX Airport (@flyLAXairport) November 19, 2020
Last week, Los Angeles International Airport took the unusual step of issuing advice with its annual holiday travel tips.
“If you do not have to travel for the holidays, don’t,” the airport said in a tweet. “For those who do, wear a mask, stay physically distanced and stay safe.”
Contributing: Sara M Moniuszko, Dawn Gilbertson, Julia Thompson, Jayme Deerwester, Curtis Tate, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘I have concerns’: Americans crowding airports for Thanksgiving, despite CDC plea to stay home