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Mar. 15, 2021 -- Commercial air travel in the U.S. seems to be increasing again, reaching the levels last seen in March 2020.

More than 1.35 million people passed through airports on Friday, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. That’s the highest number since March 15, 2020 just after the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic. Sunday, another 1.3 million people were screened, bringing the weekend total of those traveling to almost 4 million.

The CDC still recommends against nonessential flights, even for fully vaccinated people.

“We know that after mass travel, after vaccinations, after holidays, we tend to see a surge in cases,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, the CDC director, told MSNBC last week.

“And so, we really want to make sure — again with just 10% of people vaccinated — that we are limiting travel,” she said.

The TSA also screened 1.28 million passengers on Thursday and 1.22 million passengers on Saturday, marking the eighth time this month that throughput has exceeded 1 million, Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokesperson, wrote in a Twitter post on Sunday.

“If you plan to travel, please wear a mask,” she said.

Flight numbers are still low compared with previous years. About 1.7 million people flew through U.S. airports around this time last year, and about 2.5 million people passed through U.S. checkpoints at this time in 2019, the TSA reported.

The latest increase is likely related to expanded COVID-19 vaccination and spring break season, The New York Times reported. The TSA said that it prepared for an increase in spring break travel through April by recruiting new workers and vaccinating checkpoint staff.

Health officials have voiced concerns about people traveling to packed locations for spring break, such as Miami, where unmasked tourists are crowding the beaches, according to the Miami Herald. The Florida Department of Health reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with about 1 in 5 coming from Miami-Dade County.

“We are getting closer to the end. Now is not the time to catch COVID,” J. Glenn Morris, MD, an infectious disease professor at the University of Florida, told the newspaper.

A local order requires masks in public, and police have distributed more than 1,700 masks to people, but photos show that few people are wearing one.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also previously blocked cities from fining people for not wearing masks. During the past week, he issued an executive order to forgive unpaid fees for local COVID-19 orders.

“There is an enormous amount of people and not enough masks,” Mayor Dan Gelber told the newspaper. “I say mask use is the exception more than the rule at this point.”

Show Sources

New York Times, “More travelers passed through U.S. airports on Friday than any day since March 2020.”

Transportation Security Administration, “TSA checkpoint travel numbers.”

MSNBC, “Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/8/2021.”

Lisa Farbstein, “Twitter post at 9:01 am. on March 14, 2021.”

Miami Herald, “‘Granny shouldn’t be out here’: Maskless spring breakers flout South Beach COVID rules.”

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