As government officials, doctors and scientists tell people to remain at home for the holidays, nearly 85 million Americans will risk travel. This is despite warnings that the disease could hit another surge in mid-January, adding to an already terrible level of hospitalizations and deaths.
The AAA forecasts that 84.5 million Americans will travel between December 23 and January 3, which brackets the Christmas and New Year holidays. The figure represents a drop of 29% from 2019. Public health officials would quickly say that is not enough. The danger of contracting and spreading COVID-19 will cause the decline, however. Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel, said, “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”
Of those who do travel, 81.1 million will do so by car, 2.94 million will go by airplane and 480,000 by bus or train.
The AAA expects traffic jams in major cities, another sign of American willingness to take to the roads despite the cautions to do otherwise. The organization expects slowdowns on highways around Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as Washington, D.C.
Many doctors and public health officials say that the surge of Thanksgiving has only begun and will worsen in the next week. They say more travel at the end of the month will cause a “surge on top of a surge” that will drive national cases to new peaks as 2021 begins.
The travel plans come against a backdrop of over 300,000 COVID-19 deaths, over 16 million confirmed cases and hospitalizations well above 100,000. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine has one of the most carefully followed and widely regarded COVID-19 prediction models for deaths, daily infections, testing, mask use, hospital resource use and social distancing. Its scientists forecast that 509,000 Americans will die by April 1, if Americans do not take more aggressive measures to arrest the spread of the disease.
It is astonishing to think that so many people would travel during a pandemic. However, it shows exactly why COVID-19 figures continue to rise so quickly.