WASHINGTON — Despite rising COVID-19 cases around the country and health officials urging Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving this year, Sunday set a record for the most air travelers at U.S. airports since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
More than 3 million people were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday alone, a total of 1,047,934 people went through airport security checkpoints.
While that's far lower than during the same time last year, Friday and Sunday were only the second and third time since mid-March that daily airport screenings topped 1 million.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans should skip Thanksgiving travel and not spend the holiday with people from outside their household. The nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday he’s worried that instances of crowding at U.S. airports from Thanksgiving travel could lead to a perilous situation as COVID-19 cases surge.
Fauci told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that people at airports “are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now.” He said that new COVID-19 cases from Thanksgiving won’t become evident until weeks later, making it “very difficult” as the virus spirals out of control heading into colder weather and the December holiday season.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Airlines have emphasized what they're doing to sanitize gates and kiosks, shorten lines and gatherings and purify the air. But most are also offering opportunities for people to skip their holiday flights and travel later, though travelers might have to pay more for the replacement flight if it's more expensive.
Some have argued that airlines should do more. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has pushed for cash refunds for skipped flights during the pandemic, said people who dropped their Thanksgiving travel are doing the right thing and following public health guidance.
For those still traveling, the TSA said it had prepared for higher traffic this week, increasing staff levels to keep lines shorter and maintain social distancing.