NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Despite repeated warnings to stay home for the holidays, coronavirus-weary Americans are still traveling. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration expects the U.S. to set a pandemic travel record this Christmas, with the largest number of airline passengers since March.
Nearly 1.2 million passed through TSA checkpoints Wednesday alone. At major airports, travelers are surrounded by reminders of why they probably shouldn’t be there, like personal protective equipment for sale at Los Angeles International Airport and an airport Christmas tree decorated with face masks in Memphis.
“It’s a scary time to travel,” Ann Baldwin told NewsNation affiliate WWLP while en route from Connecticut to Florida. “But I also feel it’s essential for me to see my mother and sister on Christmas.”
It’s a feeling shared by millions. While more families are road-tripping this year, or choosing to spend the season at home, others say they feel safe flying and plan to quarantine with loved ones at their destination.
Governors across the country are lending their voices to the push residents to be careful.
“It could be a surge on top of a surge on top of a surge unless we are cautious,” warned Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif.
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Gov. Bill Lee, R-Tenn. urged his constituents to do all they can “to block this surge and keep more Tennesseans from getting sick.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J. announced that starting Monday, passengers on United Airlines flights from the United Kingdom to Newark must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.
New York City has already started ordering travelers from England into a 14-day quarantine.
Both developments follow the discovery of new COVID-19 variants that appear to be more contagious than the original strain. It’s unclear whether they’ve arrived in the U.S., but knowledge of their existence, combined with a rise in infections, is leading to greater vigilance by health officials and politicians.
Celebrity help has been recruited to get the message out; Gov. Murphy retweeted a PSA featuring prominent New Jersey residents like Whoopi Goldberg and Bruce Springsteen, urging people to remain vigilant until vaccines become more widely available.
Murphy himself posted a video message Thursday declaring Santa Claus an essential worker who’s been cleared to fly around the Garden State.
“He will not have to quarantine,” said Murphy. “He will behave responsibly — we have that assurance. And this will be, thanks to Santa coming to New Jersey, a very merry Christmas.”