Increased travel and Thanksgiving gatherings will likely result in a surge of new coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, scientists and public-health experts say, further accelerating the spread of Covid-19 as the nation experiences record-high cases and hospitalizations, as well as a growing number of deaths.
Leading infectious-disease experts and epidemiologists are urging Americans to take preventative steps now, especially after gathering or traveling for Thanksgiving, by quarantining at home and getting tested to lessen the potential spread.
“The travel that has been done has been done,” said Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have to be careful now because there almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel.”
More than 1.1 million people traveled through TSA checkpoints Sunday, the highest number recorded since mid-March. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is historically one of the busiest days for travel of the year. In 2019, 2.8 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints–an all-time high for the agency.
The number of travelers recorded by TSA has only surpassed 1 million four other days during the pandemic–once in October, and the rest in November before and after the holiday. The day before Thanksgiving–Wednesday, Nov. 25–saw 1.07 million travelers, the second-highest number recorded during the pandemic, according to the agency’s figures.
Epidemiologists say the impact of holiday travel and gatherings likely won’t be known for a week or two, based on the incubation period for the virus. Thanksgiving also likely disrupted new case reports around the country in recent days, a common occurrence following holidays and over weekends.
A week before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to stay home for the holiday as coronavirus cases surged in nearly every state. Now, in the days after the holiday, epidemiologists are encouraging Americans who did travel or gather in groups to quarantine at home or get tested to slow any further spread of the virus.
Experts worry various factors could compound the virus’s spread. The onset of cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours, which may prompt Americans to head indoors where the virus is more easily transmittable, add to the risks created by an increase in holiday gatherings and related travel, said Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College.
“I’m concerned that we’re coming into a perilous time,” Dr. Landrigan said Monday. “There’s a lot of opportunity for spread, unfortunately.”
More holidays through the end of the year may result in increased travel and gatherings all over again, epidemiologists warn. “We may see surge upon surge,” Dr. Fauci said.
Leaders in various states and cities are taking more preventative steps and instituting new restrictions as cases and hospitalizations increase.
In New York City, health officials are increasing testing as residents return from holiday travel. Across the country, a new stay-at-home order in Los Angeles County takes effect Monday amid what local officials called “alarming levels” of new cases. Officials in San Francisco imposed new restrictions on businesses and social gatherings on Sunday, including a nightly 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew until Dec. 21. And, starting Monday, Rhode Island entered a two-week “pause,” reducing social gatherings to single households with some exceptions, among other restrictions on daily life.