Americans ignore coronavirus warnings as millions travel home for Thanksgiving
Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways ahead of Thanksgiving at the risk of pouring gasoline on the coronavirus fire, disregarding increasingly dire warnings that they stay home and limit their holiday gatherings to members of their own household.
Those who are flying witnessed a distinctly 2020 landscape at the nation’s airports: plexiglass barriers in front of the ID stations, rapid virus testing sites inside terminals, masks in check-in areas and on board planes, and paperwork asking passengers to quarantine on arrival at their destination.
While the number of Americans travelling by air over the past several days was down dramatically from the same time last year, many pressed ahead with their holiday plans amid skyrocketing deaths, hospitalisations and confirmed infections across the US.
Some were tired of more than eight months of social distancing and determined to spend time with loved ones.
The US has recorded more than 12.7 million coronavirus infections and over 262,000 deaths. The country is still missing about eight infections for every one counted, according to a new government report on Wednesday. Many people don’t get tests, especially if they don’t have symptoms.
More than 88,000 people in the U.S. - an all-time high - were in the hospital with Covid-19 as of Tuesday, pushing the health care system in many places to the breaking point, and new cases of the virus have been setting records, soaring to an average of over 174,000 per day.
Deaths have surged to more than 1,600 per day, a mark last seen in May, when the crisis in the New York area was easing.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities have begged people not to travel and urged them to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations small.
"That’ll make sure that your extended family are around to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate the holidays next year," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
But even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Mississippi to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and youngest daughter despite sending messages on social media and to city staff asking them to avoid traveling for the holiday. He apologised, acknowledging that he went against his own public guidance.
"I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head," Mr Hancock said.
About 900,000 to 1 million people per day passed through US airport checkpoints from Friday through Tuesday, a drop-off of around 60% from the same time a year ago. Still, those were some of the biggest crowds since the Covid-19 crisis took hold in the US in March.
Last year, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through US airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving.
Many states and cities have adopted precautions. Travellers to Los Angeles, either by plane or train, were required to fill out an online form acknowledging California’s request that people quarantine for two weeks after arrival in the state.
Barack Obama urged people to be cautious.
"Let’s all do our part this Thanksgiving to keep people safe and healthy. Celebrate virtually, if you can. Wear a mask. And as always, listen to the experts. The choices you make could save lives," the US president added.