Airports See Most Travelers Since March, Days After CDC Warned Against Traveling for Thanksgiving

Many Americans are still flying home for Thanksgiving, as public health officials warn against traveling this holiday season amid spiking COVID cases.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 2 million people were screened at airports in the U.S. over a two-day period Friday and Saturday, CNN reports. Though that total is less than half the number of airline travelers at the same time last year, it is the highest since mid-March.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued safety guidelines for how to celebrate Thanksgiving during the unprecedented year, urging everyone to avoid traveling and to instead only "celebrate at home with the people you live with."

Due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and case spikes across the country, the CDC also advises against indoor gatherings of large groups, and recommends six feet of distance and face coverings at all times.

Health experts are suggesting people “modify” their holiday plans this year, since large gatherings, travel and shared meals are all potentially hazardous during the pandemic. Previous holidays, such as Memorial Day and July 4th, led to multiple COVID-19 spikes earlier this year.

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“I'm afraid I am quite concerned about Thanksgiving because it's a wonderful, warm tradition of families and extended families gathering together for prolonged periods of time, very closely. And that's obviously the environment in which the COVID virus would like to spread,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, told PEOPLE.

“Indeed, the characteristic that's driving cases upward now is that people are gathering together in groups, not wearing their masks and spending more time with each other. And that causes an acceleration of what we're seeing now, because at the moment we're having a very steep increase in cases in literally every state,” added Schaffner.

One risk is how people travel for Thanksgiving. Schaffner said driving is “the safest route,” because people can control their environment. He clarified that these options are ways to reduce the risk, but Americans need to think about who is likely to develop severe symptoms if they get infected with the coronavirus.

“You're in the car. You can get drive-through food, you can run in and out of the restroom very quickly. You can wipe off the handle on the gas pump while you're putting fuel into the car. Whereas, if you traveled with a public conveyance — air, rail, bus, whatever — you're subject to the behaviors of others,” he said. “Are they all wearing masks? Are they keeping social distancing? You're going to have to sit next to strangers. It's more risky.”

If it’s available in their area, people can also get tested for COVID-19 before they head to Thanksgiving celebrations, but “it can take some time to come back and only tells you what your circumstances are on that day,” Schaffner said. “Two days later, if you've been exposed, you could turn positive.”

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