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US air travel numbers have surged and set new pandemic-era highs in the days following Christmas and into the new year. 

With more than half a million Americans traveling on Christmas day, TSA reported the highest number of screened travelers since mid-march two days later on December 27th, at nearly 1.3 million. 

This past Saturday the record was nearly reached again, with close to 1.2 million travelers screened. The data shows that six of the eight days following Christmas had traveler output of over one million. 

travelers in masks airport

The surge in travel has created concern among experts as they believe it will lead to increased transmission of COVID-19. 

Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci stated:

“It’s terrible, it’s unfortunate, but it was predictable […] Things are bad enough as they are right now, but they could get worse in the next couple of weeks.”

New York hospital Health care workers

Due to a time lag of contracting the virus and exhibiting symptoms and illness, public health officials believe the Christmas spike of COVID-19 cases would not emerge clearly until the second week of January. 

Officials are also fearful of the magnitudes in transmission from Christmas travel, as this was the first holiday in which the new mutated variant of COVID-19, first reported in the UK, was circulating in the US. 

Holiday Travel Will Add to US Struggles with COVID-19

The US COVID-19 death toll recently surpassed 350,000, with December being the worst month of the pandemic since it began. 

The month of December averaged well over 100,000 daily new cases. Of the 20 million confirmed cases in the US, over a quarter (6.3 million) were reported in the month. 

Many experts believe the outpour of travel for the Thanksgiving holiday in November was a significant factor in the rise of cases in December. Subsequently, it is feared that a similar effect will result from the upswing in Christmas travel. 

Manhattan holidays masks sign

Some analysts note that it is unlikely for air travel to cause transmission, making the house gatherings and visits which travelers make at their destinations the cause of influx in cases.

UK COVID Strain Circulating in US

The spike in COVID-19 cases from Christmas travel is concerning to health officials as it is the first holiday in which the new coronavirus strain first reported in the UK was identified in the US. 

traveler wearing mask in airport

The first reported case of the new COVID-19 variant was reported last week, in a Colorado man in his 20’s who did not have any recent travel history. The new variant has since been reported in two additional states, California and Florida.

The new strain is expected to be much more transmissible than the original COVID-19 variant.

Both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech believe their vaccines are effective against the new strain. 

Experts Pushing for Quicker Rollout of Vaccines

With COVID-19 cases at such high levels and forecasts of a surge from Christmas travel, the accelerated roll-out of a vaccine is being called for by experts. 

The Trump administration had projected 20 million vaccine shots by the end of 2020, however, the CDC’s recent data reports just over 4 million Americans receiving a dose up to now.

President-elect Joe Biden has specified a target of 100 million vaccinations within his first 100 days of office. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci believes that the one million vaccinations per day target could be reached now, before Biden comes into office. 

Speaking to ABC news, Fauci stated:

“We are not where we want to be, there's no doubt about that, but I think we can get there if we really accelerate, get some momentum going, and see what happens as we get into the first couple of weeks of January.”

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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling.  Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories



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