Millions of Americans appeared to be disregarding public health warnings and traveling ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, likely fueling an alarming surge in coronavirus infections before a series of promising new vaccines are expected to become widely available.
As U.S. infections of the highly contagious respiratory virus continued to spread swiftly, hitting a new record of 168,000 new cases per day on average, many travelers expressed equal parts of determination and dread.
“My son’s been here for seven years and I miss him and I really wanted to see him. So I decided to come down and I have gloves on, I had my glasses on on the train and my mask, except for right now,” said Bernadette Sheridan, who took the Amtrak train to Washington from New York to meet her son.
“I was kind of nervous this weekend and being in Penn Station today, I try not to wait around and be inside too often, but I’m not too concerned,” said Stephen Clapp, another Amtrak traveler arriving from New York to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Clapp said he was tested for COVID-19 before coming to Washington and had quarantined himself during the weekend.
“I tested negative so that’s why I’m here,” Clapp said.
The long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which begins on Thursday, is traditionally the busiest U.S. travel period of the year, and 2020 may prove to be no exception.
Some 1 million passengers passed through airport security gates on Sunday, the highest number since March.
It was the second time in three days U.S. air travel screenings surpassed 1 million, though the numbers are down nearly 60% from the same time last year, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said.
Likewise, the American Automobile Association has forecast that 45 million to 50 million people will take to the highways over the holiday, compared with 55 million in 2019. Amtrak said their ridership was currently about 20% of where they were in 2019 over the Thanksgiving travel period.
At the same time, soaring rates of coronavirus infections, deaths and hospitalizations have continued unabated.
The seven-day rolling average number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths climbed for a 12th straight day, reaching 1,500 as of Monday, according to a Reuters tally of official data, and coronavirus hospitalizations nationally have surged nearly 50% over the past two weeks.
Still, the imperatives of family and fatigue with COVID-19 restrictions have left many Americans defying health advice that could save their lives.
“I have my hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes in my bag, I’ve got my masks, which I’ll probably switch out when I switch trains,” said Katherine Blobner, who was taking the train to see her family Poughkeepsie, New York.
To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 255,000 Americans, with over 12 million testing positive since the pandemic began.
State and local government officials have reimposed a host of restrictions on social and economic life in recent weeks to tamp down the spread, as medical experts warn the surge is threatening to overwhelm hospitals already strained by the rising caseload.
(Production by Kevin Fogarty, Pavithra George)