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As Thanksgiving COVID Cases Materialize, CDC Urges Against Christmas Travel

“The safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home,” the head of the CDC’s travel branch said.

People travel through New York's LaGuardia Airport on December 03, 2020 in New York City.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health experts are discouraging Americans from traveling during the upcoming holiday season in order to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Similar recommendations from the CDC were made last month, in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, when officials from the agency gave explicit instructions warning against traveling to see family and friends during that time.

Yet many people disregarded the CDC’s guidance. Data on holiday travel last month reveal that vehicle use was down by only 5 percent from where it was at the year prior over the Thanksgiving weekend. And while travel by plane was down substantially compared to past years, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) noted that for four days during the Thanksgiving travel period, more than 1 million passengers were checked at airports across the country.

Only one other day during the pandemic — October 18 — has seen more than 1 million passengers board planes in the U.S.

The CDC had urged Americans to reconsider travel plans during the holiday weekend last month. Nevertheless, according to an Axios/Ipsos poll prior to Thanksgiving, 4 in 10 Americans said they still intended to travel to see loved ones.

Earlier this week during a telebriefing, Cindy Friedman, chief of The Travelers’ Health Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reiterated the need for Americans to consider alternative approaches to this year’s holiday celebrations in December.

“The safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home,” Friedman said on Wednesday.

Friedman also acknowledged the high travel volume seen over the Thanksgiving holiday — and suggested there would be serious ramifications because of it. Even if a small percent of those who traveled last month had COVID-19, she said, it would likely translate into hundreds of thousands of infections across the country in the coming weeks.

Speaking with Newsweek about the issue, Manisha Juthani, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine, noted that this high level of travel could lead to many preventable deaths:

“It is extremely tragic to know that there are preventable deaths on the horizon from public health interventions we can do now while waiting for vaccine uptake in the months to come. I won’t be surprised if we have over 3,000 deaths per day in a month… I anticipate that we will be marking our holiday season and the new year with record high hospitalizations and deaths while, ironically, administering vaccines at the same time.”

November saw an increase in the number of coronavirus cases reported daily. At the start of the month, the seven-day average of new cases reported across the country was less than 83,000 per day. By November 27 — the day after Thanksgiving — that number was above 165,000 per day. By December 3, the rate increased to more than 180,000 new cases per day.

Many expect those numbers to continue their upward trajectory in the next few weeks, due to increases in travel that occurred late last month. Indeed, many cases related to Thanksgiving travel have likely not yet emerged.

As the CDC has noted, it can take between 1 to 14 days before symptoms of coronavirus develop. (Thanksgiving happened just eight days ago.) Additionally, some people may not present symptoms at all, and may spread the virus that they contracted during the holiday to others in their communities without even knowing it.

As of Friday morning, more than 14.2 million cases of coronavirus have been identified in the United States. More than 276,000 have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

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