Millions of Americans appear to be disregarding public health warnings and travelling for the Thanksgiving holiday, likely fuelling an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
US travellers have flocked to airports and highways this week, against the advice of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the US surgeon-general and Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Even President-elect Joe Biden has urged Americans to limit indoor Thanksgiving celebrations to “a maximum of 10 people, socially distanced and wearing masks”.
“I would strongly urge for the sake, not just for your sake, but for the sake of your children, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, whoever you get together with for Thanksgiving – think about this. There should be no group more than 10 people in one room, at one time, inside the homes. That’s what they’re telling me,” he said last week.
“I just wanna make sure that we’re able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas. It is an international crisis.
“We’re at war with the virus.”
But, even as US virus infections continued to spread swiftly, hitting a record of 168,000 new cases a day on average, and hospitals reached capacity, many travellers expressed equal parts of determination and dread.
“I’m really scared but seeing family is very important to me,” 18-year-old Hannah Osnan said.
The Californian university student was waiting for a COVID-19 test at Los Angeles International Airport, where she hoped to board a flight to see family in Egypt for the first time in a year.
The long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which begins on Thursday, is traditionally the busiest US travel period of the year. It appears that 2020 might prove to be no exception, even as the pandemic cuts a deadly swathe across the nation.
About one million passengers passed through airport security gates on Sunday, the highest number since March. It was the second time in three days US air travel screenings had topped one million, though the US Transportation Security Administration said numbers were down nearly 60 per cent from the same time in 2019.
Likewise, the American Automobile Association expected up to 50 million people will take to the highways over the holiday, compared with 55 million in 2019.
At the same time, rates of coronavirus infections, deaths and hospitalisations are soaring.
Earlier in November, with daily infections topping 1000 a day across the country and hospitalisations climbing with them, health officials warned the US faced a “COVID hell” as it entered winter.
Since then, the seven-day rolling average number of US COVID-19 deaths has climbed even further, reaching 1500 as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data. Hospitalisations nationally have surged nearly 50 per cent in the past fortnight.
COVID-19 has killed more than 257,000 Americans, with more than 12 million testing positive since the pandemic began.
State and local officials have reimposed a host of restrictions in recent weeks to tamp down the spread, as medical experts warn the surge is threatening to overwhelm hospitals.