Thanksgiving vehicle travel down just 5 percent from 2019 despite health experts’ warnings

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Vehicle travel on and around Thanksgiving Day was only 5 percent less than in 2019, despite warnings from health care experts and elected officials to avoid family gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to an analysis by The Associated Press, information provided by transportation information firm StreetLight Data showed that while vehicle travel was as much as 20 percent lower than a year prior in early November, it surged across the country around the holiday. 

“People were less willing to change their behavior than any other day during the pandemic,” Laura Schewel, founder of StreetLight Data, told the AP. 

The AP also reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 1 million passengers on four separate days during the Thanksgiving travel period. Since the pandemic significantly reduced travel in March, there has been only one other day when the number of TSA-screened travelers was higher than 1 million — Oct. 18.

“If only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another,” Cindy Friedman, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official and a doctor, said during a briefing this week.

While air travel was still much lower compared to this point last year, the increase in airport attendance around Thanksgiving came even after the CDC issued a guidance urging Americans to postpone travel or stay home for the holiday. 

The CDC on Wednesday issued a similar warning urging Americans to refrain from traveling for Christmas. 

It said in the new guidance it is recommending that if people do end up traveling, they should get tested one to three days before travel and three to five days afterward. People who do not get tested should cut down on nonessential activities for 10 days after travel.

data visualization of anonymous cellphone data from a firm called Tectonix showed that in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the country saw a rapid influx of people coming from university campuses, many of which served as centers for outbreaks as students returned to campuses in the fall. 

The U.S. on Thursday hit a total of more than 14 million coronavirus infections, averaging about 1 million new cases every six days over the past month.

As of Friday, the country has had more than 276,000 deaths due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Tags Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC Christmas Coronavirus coronavirus covid-19 holiday travel Johns Hopkins University Thanksgiving Thanksgiving travel The Associated Press Transportation Security Administration

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