Travel | November 30, 2020 1:40 pm

More Americans Flew On Sunday Than Any Day Since the Pandemic Began

Dr. Fauci is predicting a "surge upon a surge" of new cases following Thanksgiving travel

tea thanksgiving travel
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The numbers are in, and they aren’t great. 

The TSA reported today that it screened 1.17 million people on Sunday, as Americans headed home from Thanksgiving travel. At first glance, that figure might not seem too high. It’s just 41% of the 2.88 million who traveled on the same day in 2019. But keep in mind, Sunday last year set an all-time record. It was the highest mark in the TSA’s 18-year history, and at the time, a sign of years of growth in the travel industry. 

This time around, there’s nothing to celebrate. Earlier in the month, the CDC recommended that Americans stick to their own households for Thanksgiving. This data indicates that while a majority of would-be travelers listened, a startling percentage did not. Already today, Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the country may see a “surge upon a surge” in the coming weeks, as the aftermath of that holiday travel, plus ever colder weather, sends positivity rates in the wrong direction.

holiday travel numbers
Nearly 10 million Americans passed through TSA checkpoints in the last week.
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

It wasn’t just Sunday. As early as the Friday before Thanksgiving, the TSA counted 1.02 million travelers. It was the first of four days in the last 10 where more than one million travelers passed through airport checkpoints in the United States. For context, that had only happened a single other time since March 16. 

Last month, Harvard’s Aviation Public Health Initiative published a study that suggested HEPA filters, face covering mandates, social distancing and passenger health testaments were all keeping flights safe — safer, even, than a trip to the grocery store. But the researchers also acknowledged that the focus of their study was purely “gate to gate.” (Everything that happens aboard the plane.) There is concern that the “curb to curb” experience, which includes waiting on lines in the airport and crowding onto shuttle buses, may not be as equipped, at the moment at least, to ward off the virus.

At this point, as frustrating as this all is, what’s done is done. Americans who did travel need to behave accordingly as we march into December. In a CBS interview yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx said, “If your family traveled, you have to assume that you are exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.” At the very least, those people should be quarantining. Over the past two weeks, there was an 8% increase in COVID cases nationwide (up to 162,007, on average). We can only hope and pray that that number doesn’t skyrocket two weeks from now.