Millions of Americans took to the skies and highways before Thanksgiving at the risk of spilling gasoline on the coronavirus blaze, ignoring increasingly serious warnings that they would stay home and limit their vacation gatherings to members of their own household.
Those who fly have witnessed a distinctly 2020 landscape at airports across the country: plexiglass barriers in front of identification stations, rapid virus test sites inside terminals, masks in check-in areas and at on planes, and paperwork asking passengers to quarantine themselves upon arrival at their destination.
As the number of Americans traveling by air in the past few days has declined significantly from the same period last year, many have continued with their vacation plans amid the spike in deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed infections. across the United States.
Some were tired of more than eight months of social distancing and determined to spend time with loved ones.
“I think with the holidays and everything, it’s so important right now, especially because people are so disappointed with the whole pandemic,” said Cassidy Zerkle, 25, of Phoenix, who is flew to Kansas City, Missouri for the family during what is traditionally one of the busiest travel times of the year.
She brought snacks and her own hand sanitizer and said the flight was half full. She had a row of seats to herself.
“As long as you keep your distance, don’t touch things, and sanitize your hands, people should see their families now,” she said.
The United States has recorded more than 12.7 million coronavirus infections and more than 262,000 deaths. The country still lacks about eight infections for every person identified, according to a new government report on Wednesday. Many people don’t get tested, especially if they don’t have symptoms.
More than 88,000 people in the United States – an all-time high – were in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, pushing the health care system in many places to the breaking point, and new cases of the virus have set records, climbing to an average of over 174,000 per day.
Deaths climbed to more than 1,600 per day, a mark last seen in May, as the crisis in the New York area abated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities pleaded with people not to travel and urged them to keep Thanksgiving celebrations small.
“This will ensure that your extended family will be there to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate the holidays next year,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
But even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and youngest daughter despite messaging social media and city staff asking them to avoid traveling for vacation. He apologized, acknowledging that he was going against his own public guidelines.
“I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive the decisions that are made by my heart and not by my head,” Hancock said.
About 900,000 to 1 million people a day passed through US airport checkpoints from Friday to Wednesday, a drop of about 60% from the same period a year ago. Still, it was one of the biggest crowds since the COVID-19 crisis in the United States in March. On Wednesday, the more than one million people screened at airports was the largest since the start of the pandemic.
Last year, a record 26 million passengers and crew cleared U.S. airports in the 11 days around Thanksgiving.
More Americans drive than fly on vacation, and AAA forecast those numbers to be lower this year as well. How much lower the automobile club did not say.
Many states and cities have adopted precautions. Travelers to Los Angeles, by plane or train, were required to complete an online form acknowledging California’s request to quarantine people for two weeks after arriving in the state.
Thea Zunick, 40, boarded a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Florida to see her 90-year-old grandmother and parents.
“We all decided it was worth the risk,” Zunick said. “But I wanted to make sure that all the efforts I made to stay healthy weren’t canceled out by the recklessness of others. And absolutely, I know I’m taking a risk by stealing. I know it, but sometimes it is necessary.
She was isolated at home for days before the trip, tested negative for COVID-19, and made sure to choose an early and direct flight. She also masked and put a face shield on top.
“I felt like an astronaut, to be honest,” Zunick said.
Once at the airport, Zunick said, she saw low mask compliance, loose enforcement of rules, long queues to check in baggage and disregard for social distancing in security lines. .
Once she boarded her full flight, with the middle seats occupied, she watched the passengers eat and drink with their masks down and sit next to a passenger wearing a loose bandana, which prompted her to call a flight attendant, she said.
“I said to the flight attendant, ‘Hey, the person next to me, is that allowed? Because it makes me uncomfortable. They say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s good.’ But that’s not the case, ”Zunick said. “The bottom was open. And he was so loosely tied that he kept falling throughout the flight and he kept playing with it and trying to tighten it and pull it up.
Anne Moore, a 60-year-old woman from Chicago, flew to Albany, New York, to be with her daughter for the holidays, then returned to Illinois with her. Her daughter is a senior at Dartmouth College, and Moore and her husband feared she would return alone.
Before the peak, the family had planned to have a Thanksgiving gathering of less than 10 people. But instead, it will only be Moore, her husband and daughter.
“I have friends who are alone. And I don’t invite them. And I feel bad about it, ”she said. “We’re going for a walk or something instead. But yes, the three of us isolate ourselves.