The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it screened more than 2.5 million travelers over the weekend, including 1.3 million on Sunday, the most since COVID-19 restrictions took effect in March.
While the figures represent a little more than half of the 4.6 million people who traveled on the first weekend of 2020, it marked a stark increase in travel following Christmas and New Year’s and suggests that many Americans chose not to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) amid the pandemic.
After air travel bottomed out with an average of about 100,000 TSA screenings a day in mid-April, Americans have slowly returned to the skies. TSA figures show that screenings gradually rose throughout the summer, and the agency would screen about 800,000 air passengers on busy days.
However, the past few weeks have seen the most travel since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The TSA has screened 1 million travelers a day 11 times since Dec. 18. Between March 17 and Dec. 17, the TSA screened 1 million travelers in a day just 5 times.
The increase in travel went against the recommendations of the CDC.
"The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,'' said Dr. Henry Walke, CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, during a news briefing in early December. "Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase.”
TSA reported an increase in traveler screenings during the week of Thanksgiving. Between Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, the TSA recorded three days where they screened more than 1 million travelers, including 1.2 million, then a record, on Nov. 29.
In the days and weeks following Thanksgiving, the U.S. saw what Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, described as a “surge upon a surge.”
Between Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 17, the U.S. saw the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases per day jump from 165,906 a day to 213,779 a day.
An additional 35,000 Americans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Thanksgiving Day, as hospitalizations linked to the virus increased from 90,000 to more than 125,000 — an all-time high. The seven-day rolling average of deaths per day has also increased from 1,568 a day to 2,611.