Health officials brace for possible COVID-19 case increases due to holiday travel

U.S.

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Despite warnings from the CDC, more than 9 million people took to the air this holiday season, traveling to see friends and family.

The United States has reported more than 19 million COVID-19 cases and 333,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Many travelers we spoke to say the trips were needed this holiday season and they plan to take precautions.

“Everyone got tested before we got together and it came back negative. Thank goodness,” said Christina Connelly at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.

For 12-year-old Garrett Feinberg, he has to travel to see his family.

“When the pandemic first started, there were maybe six people on the plane but now there’s at least 50,” said Feinberg.

During the pandemic, the pre-teen has split his time between Orlando and New Fairfield, CT. His mother says they make sure to get him tested for COVID-19 before he takes a flight.

“We have to be careful, but we have to fly too. I wasn’t going to spend Christmas without my baby ,” said Garrett’s mother Renee Marotta.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.28 million passengers on Sunday at U.S. airports, the highest number since mid-March.

The number of U.S. air travelers is still about 50% lower than the same date last year, but Sunday was the sixth day in the last 10 that volume surpassed 1 million. The rise comes despite public health officials urging Americans to avoid holiday travel this year as coronavirus cases have jumped.

Over the last 10 days, about 10.2 million people have been screened at U.S. airports, compared to nearly 25 million over the same period last year.

Despite the decrease from last year, many doctors say the numbers are still alarming. 

Dr. Vanessa Walker is a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Sutter Roseville in California. Dr. Walker says her facility is already pushed to the max and running short on nursing staff because of the pandemic.

“I am very concerned that if we have more gathering, more people in doors, we are going to have even more patients come to the hospital,” Walker said. “People will not get as good of care as they should be getting, simply because we don’t have the space, we don’t have all the staff we need if we have a big surge of patients.”

Governors across the U.S. had warned residents to be careful over the holidays.

“It could be a surge on top of a surge on top of a surge unless we are cautious,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

State and local officials also recently started implementing new measures to curb the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus that has surfaced in the U.K.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced a joint initiative with United Airlines that requires passengers on the airline’s flights from the U.K. to Newark to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure. It takes effect Monday.

New York City has already started ordering travelers from England into a 14-day quarantine

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that three airlines with scheduled flights from London to New York — British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic — had agreed to require passengers to take a COVID-19 test before they get on the plane. He also has called on the federal government to temporarily halt all flights from the U.K.

Meanwhile, U.S. airlines are set to receive $15 billion in additional payroll assistance after President Donald Trump signed a COVID-19 relief measure on Sunday. The new government aid will require American Airlines and United Airlines to return more than 32,000 workers to payrolls who were furloughed in October.

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly told workers Sunday in an email that the funding “means we can stop the movement toward furloughs and pay cuts that we previously announced.”

“The new law will provide payroll support for all Southwest Employees through March 31, 2021. Given this, we currently do not anticipate the need to conduct any furloughs or pay cuts next year,” Kelly wrote.

Earlier this month, Southwest had issued notices to more than 6,800 employees warning them that they could be furloughed. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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