More than 6 million passengers have travelled through airport security checkpoints within the week before Christmas.
Despite warnings from health officials and overwhelmed hospital systems urging Americans to stay at home to prevent spreading the coronavirus, Christmas-related air travel surpassed 1 million daily passengers for three consecutive days, between Friday and Sunday before Christmas, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
The day before Christmas Eve, more than 1.1 million passengers travelled through US airports, a record-high number during the public health crisis. More than 6 million passengers have been screened into airports in the week before Christmas, as of 23 December.
That scale of commercial air travel has easily surpassed travel numbers from Thanksgiving that broke records during the pandemic.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges Americans to postpone travel and stay home during the holiday, “as this is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
“The safest way to celebrate winter holidays is at home with the people who live with you,” the CDC has stressed. “Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading Covid-19 or the flu.”
People who do travel during the holidays are asked to get a flu shot before they depart, wear a mask, remain six feet apart from others, consider outdoor settings and wearing masks when gathering with others, and to cancel or postpone events if someone who lives with guests or has been somewhere near others has been infected with Covid-19.
More than a dozen states have implemented travel restrictions or some form of guidance, including testing and quarantines for out-of-state visitors. Several states require travellers to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test or fill out mandatory health forms.
In California, the first state to surpass 2 million confirmed infections, with stay-at-home measures impacting most of the state, nonessential travel is prohibited, and out-of-state travellers can only book hotels for at least 14 days.
Travellers to San Francisco must adhere to a 10-day quarantine, and adults travelling to Los Angeles must submit a form acknowledging they’ve read the state’s travel advisories upon arrival or face a $500 fine.
Health officials fear the latest spike in holiday travel will mirror a post-Thanksgiving surge in infections and hospitalisations, which topped 119,000 on Wednesday, the largest-single day count in current hospitalisations since the onset of the pandemic.
Since Thanksgiving on 26 November, after the nation’s infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci warned a “surge upon a surge” of infections was imminent as families gathered for the holiday, average daily cases have topped 215,00 within the month that followed. A month earlier, the US averaged roughly 163,000 cases a day.
Record-breaking hospitalisations and deaths followed.
More than 57,683 people have died in December, now the deadliest month of the pandemic, with several days left before the end of 2020.
At least 100,000 were in hospital for Covid-19 every day since 2 December, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
“We expect that Christmas and New Year’s holiday reporting gaps and backlogs will obscure the realities of the country’s many outbreaks,” the group reported on 23 December.
Within the last week, the US reported 18,690 deaths, an average of 2,670 per day.
More than 320,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.