Thanksgiving 2020: Traveling Americans 'Jam Pack' Airports Despite CDC Warnings and Travel Restrictions

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against traveling for Thanksgiving during the coronavirus pandemic, reports of Americans still traveling at airports continue to come in. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million people at U.S. airports, reports CNN. While that was a 40% drop from the same day a year ago, it was just the second time since March that 1 million people passed through TSA screenings in one day. The first time was on Oct. 18.

While the airline industry has mostly come to a halt during the pandemic, airlines prepared for Thanksgiving week to be the busiest of the year. American Airlines said it boosted its schedule by 15% during the week, averaging 4,000 flights per day. The airlines do insist passengers wear face coverings on planes and have said they use enhanced cleaning procedures on planes between flights.

While the drop in TSA screenings between Thanksgiving 2019 and the same period in 2020 shows that most Americans are choosing not to travel far, experts are still worried that traveling will put an even bigger burden on hospitals and health-care workers as the number of cases continues to skyrocket. “The scary news is that this week will probably have the highest amount of travel we have seen since the pandemic began," Christopher Worsham, a physician, and Harvard Medical School research fellow, told The Washington Post.

Worsham and other experts said they are more concerned about travelers spreading the virus when they arrive at their destination. “We have to remember that the virus does not care that it is the holidays, that you are family, and that you have already gone a long time without seeing one another," he said. "If given opportunities to spread, the virus will spread."

Some videos of packed airports have gone viral. In Phoenix, AZFamily shared footage of a packed Phoenix Sky Harbor. "This is about as crowded as it was before COVID hit," Ed Westerfield, who filmed the video, told the outlet. "This is just jam-packed." Curt Vurpillat, who was traveling to Chicago, told the outlet he did not change his plans, despite the virus. "Not that I don't think it's real, but I have a life to live and things to do, so we take necessary precautions," Vurpillat said.

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Thanksgiving week comes at a dangerous time during the pandemic. The total number of cases in the U.S. has reached 12 million and the number of coronavirus-related deaths is at 250,000. On Friday, Johns Hopkins University reported a new single-day record, with 195,542 new cases confirmed in the U.S.

During an appearance on MSNBC, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it was important for families to weigh the costs of gathering for the holiday. “Do you have people in your family that are elderly that might have underlying conditions, like someone on chemotherapy or other things that weaken their immune system?” Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said. “Do you really want to get a crowd of 10, 15, 20 people, many of whom are coming in from places where they’ve gone through crowded airports to planes, getting into the house?”