December 7, 2020 -- Despite warnings from public health officials to avoid holiday gatherings, Americans took to the roads and skies for Thanksgiving, according to The Associated Press.

In early November, roadway travel was down about 20% compared to last year, but by Thanksgiving Day, traffic was only 5% less than in 2019, based on a StreetLight Data analysis provided to the AP.

“People were less willing to change their behavior than any other day during the pandemic,” Laura Schewel, founder of StreetLight Data, told the AP.

Airports also reported their busiest days of the year around Thanksgiving, though air travel was lower than in 2019. More than 1 million people flew on four days between Nov. 20-29, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, and nearly 1 million flew during five other days in that time period.

“If only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another,” Cindy Friedman, chief of The Travelers’ Health Branch at the CDC, said during a press briefing on Wednesday.

Friedman and other CDC officials suggested the same travel guidance for upcoming holidays as they did for Thanksgiving — stay home and postpone travel for now.

“Travel is a door-to-door experience that can spread the virus during the journey and into communities that travelers visit or live,” she said.

COVID-19 cases surged last week, with the U.S. reporting record-breaking numbers in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. More than 210,000 cases were reported on Thursday, according to The COVID Tracking Project, with more than 100,700 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the country. More than 3,100 deaths were reported on Thursday, the AP reported, which broke the previous record from April.

Additional Thanksgiving-related infections will likely emerge this week, and a surge in hospitalizations and deaths will follow that, according to Bloomberg News.

“Before the holiday we were already crowded in the hospital,” Janis Orlowski, MD, chief health care officer for the American Association of Medical Colleges, told the news outlet.

“We don’t know how big of a bump we’re going to get, but (we’re) bracing for a big bump,” she said.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

Associated Press, “Data shows American couldn’t resist Thanksgiving travel.”

Transportation Security Administration, “TSA checkpoint travel numbers for 2020 and 2019.”

CDC, “Transcript for CDC Telebriefing on the COVID-19 Outbreak.”

COVID Tracking Project, “U.S. Data, updated December 3, 2020.”

Bloomberg News, “Thanksgiving Travel Data Point to Surge in Covid Infections and Deaths.”

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