SAN FRANCISCO — Even as a third wave of Covid-19 crescendos across the United States, the Transportation Security Administration logged more than 3.5 million travelers in U.S. airports during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.
TSA checkpoint data show spikes on the Sundays before and after Thanksgiving Day, and on the day immediately preceding the holiday. More than 1 million travelers passed through checkpoints on each of those days. The latest available data suggest those numbers are down about 50% from 2019.
Most Americans have spent the last eight months socially distancing, staying home and wearing face masks as precautionary measures to avoid spreading Covid-19. But Christmas and Hanukkah could weaken their resolve as news of promised vaccines encourage families to celebrate the end of an unpredictable year together.
“There has been a chronic stress associated with Covid-19. People are trying to combat the exhaustion that comes with physical and emotional fatigue of pandemic-induced stress by finding a temporary anecdote in seeing friends and family,” Stanford University Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Greg Hammer told Zenger News.
Winter weather could be a wild card, driving people indoors in colder climates and allowing the coronavirus to spread where air circulation is inadequate.
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A November poll from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center found that “[n]early two out of five Americans are likely to attend a holiday gathering of more than 10 people or with others outside their household.” One-third of those surveyed said they would not ask guests to wear masks.
As Americans weigh the risk of traveling for the holidays this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to caution against nonessential travel, advocating for virtual celebrations instead. The CDC has instructed Americans to wear masks and stay six feet away from people outside their own households.
The agency also recommends staying outside and bringing self-cooked meals to gatherings. Frequently touched surfaces and items should be disinfected often, and guests should avoid kitchens and other places where food is prepared.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, encouraged Americans to assess the risks and benefits of Thanksgiving travel before planning a trip. Fauci asked families to consider the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Although many are gathering, Covid-19 has compelled others who normally would travel to stay home.
AAA predicted that as many as 50 million Americans would travel for Thanksgiving, based on forecasts from mid October, but “as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising Covid-19 positive case numbers … AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers to be even lower,” according to a more recent statement. Car insurance companies expected automobile travel to drop by 4.3 percent from last year, according to AAA, which forecasted a 47.5% decline in air travel and a 76% drop in travel “by other modes, including buses, trains and cruises.”
Covid-19 testing before holiday gatherings could encourage complacency since 40 percent of Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic, according to a September assessment from the CDC. People can contract the deadly coronavirus after being tested, and might not know they are infected.
As of Nov. 30, about 13.4 million Americans have been infected with the rapidly spreading virus. More than 1 million cases were reported in the last seven days. More than 244,000 U.S. residents have died from Covid-19, according to CDC data.
Dr. Hammer encouraged Americans to “be grateful that we can celebrate virtually” and lamented a maverick mindset that could cost people their lives.
“Another reason many are still traveling is a rebellion against being told what to do,” said Dr. Hammer.
(Edited by Anna Grace Timmis and David Martosko)