The coronavirus pandemic continues to spiral out of control in the U.S., with the nation averaging 172,000 new cases per day, hospitalizations reaching all-time highs and the death rate totalling more than a quarter-million people.
Despite the harrowing COVID-19 numbers, Americans are flocking to the airports before the Thanksgiving holiday, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pleaded with the country not to.
Nearly one million air travelers passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports Tuesday, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Three million people went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday, marking the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis first took hold.
While the numbers are high, Thanksgiving travelling is still is down by more than half from last year. However, the crowds are only expected to grow. In the U.S., the Sunday after Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year.
The U.S coronavirus daily death toll reached 2,157 on Tuesday, the highest number since May, with another 170,000 people infected, according to Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the numbers could grow with millions of Americans disregarding travel warnings for the holiday, such as the one from the CDC last week.
The CDC issued a warning against holiday travel on Nov. 19, saying the concern is not with the risk of infection on flights but rather due to large family gatherings, which could help spread the virus.
During a media conference, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager, said the agency recommended “against travel during the Thanksgiving period.”
“The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. And we don’t want that to happen,” he said.
Some states impose restrictions
In response to the busy Thanksgiving season, U.S. officials have imposed restrictions in order to deter the spread of the virus.
Utah and Vermont have banned all social gatherings. So have local governments in Dane County, Wisconsin and Philadelphia. In Kentucky, no more than eight people from two households are permitted to get together; in Oregon, the gathering limit is six. California has imposed an overnight curfew.
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On Wednesday, Los Angeles International Airport also issued a warning against holiday travel.
“If you do not have to travel for the holidays, don’t,” the airport said in a tweet. “For those who do, wear a mask, stay physically distanced and stay safe.”
Growing line ups at U.S. testing sites
With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S.
Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays with testing results.
“As those cases increase, demand increases and turnaround times may increase,” Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said. “So it’s like a dog chasing its tail.”
Last week, lines spanned multiple city blocks at testing sites across New York City, leaving people waiting three or more hours before they could even enter health clinics. In Los Angeles, thousands lined up outside Dodger Stadium for drive-thru testing.
In Massachusetts, where officials are urging even asymptomatic people to get free testing in certain communities with high numbers of coronavirus cases, people sat in cars for up to four hours last week at a hospital near Boston, WBZ reported
“I think it’s a combination of holidays coming up, but also just the uptick in the (infection) numbers out there,” a hospital official told WBZ.
The day after Thanksgiving is another busy day in the U.S. — Black Friday.
According to a recent Deloitte survey, 74 per cent of respondents said they plan to shop online during the Thanksgiving period (last year it was 62 per cent). And 57 per cent said they plan to avoid in-store shopping (compared to 42 per cent last year).
The respondents who do plan on shopping in stores on Black Friday said the biggest reason was to “take advantage of a sale of the season” (73 per cent). And 46 per cent of respondents said they are shopping in stores in order to enjoy time with friends and family.
Although Americans may still line up for Black Friday deals amid the coronavirus pandemic, many retailers have been encouraging online shopping for months.
For example, Target started offering 2020 Black Friday-style deals as early as October.
And many retailers, like Walmart, are also closing down for Thanksgiving Day in-store shopping in order to reduce crowds.
The CDC previously classified “shopping at crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving” on a list of higher-risk activities to avoid.
— With files from the Associated Press