Sunday was the busiest day for U.S. airports since mid-March, underscoring concerns that a spike in holiday travel may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, even as new cases remain alarmingly high and officials plead with Americans to avoid taking unnecessary risks.
The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 1.3 million people on Sunday, the most since March 15, when airline passenger numbers were in free-fall as the pandemic began to take hold within the United States.
Since then, the number of travelers screened at airports has exceeded one million fewer than a dozen times, including around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
About 3.8 million people passed through T.S.A. travel checkpoints between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, compared with 9.5 million on those days last year.
The surge in holiday travel compared with previous months comes despite warnings from federal officials and soaring U.S. case numbers.
Total infections surpassed 19 million on Saturday, meaning that at least 1 in 17 people have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic. And the virus has killed more than 333,000 people — one in every thousand in the country. Hospitalizations are hovering at a pandemic height of about 120,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Holiday reporting anomalies may obscure any post-Christmas spike until the second week of January. Testing was expected to decrease around Christmas and New Year’s, and many states said they would not report data on certain days.
The lessons learned from Thanksgiving are mixed. Case numbers and deaths have continued to rise since, but the patterns look more like a plethora of microspreads than a mass superspreader event.
Over all, experts have told The Times, areas of the U.S. that were improving pre-Thanksgiving — like the Midwest — continued to do well afterward, while regions that were seeing higher numbers before the holiday continued to worsen.
It is difficult to trace precisely where infections may occur in a journey — be it in flight, at the airport or at the destination, but travel is a critical factor in the spread of the virus.
U.S. officials said last week that passengers arriving from Britain would be required to test negative for the virus before departing. The new rule came after a new highly transmissible variant of the virus was discovered in that country.
The federal government has imposed some limits on passengers arriving from other countries, but states have largely been left to impose such restrictions domestically and have done so with mixed results. Hawaii, for example, has had relative success in maintaining quarantine restrictions. But most states and the District of Columbia have struggled to keep out travelers or require them to quarantine themselves upon arrival.
Coronavirus deaths in Spain reached 50,000, the fourth European nation to do so, after Italy, Britain and France.
Spain undertook one of the most restrictive lockdowns in the spring. It ended its first state of emergency in June, but a merciless second wave that began in August has continued through the fall and into the winter, even as Spain returned to a state of emergency in October.
The health ministry said on Monday that it had registered 50,122 dead since the start of the pandemic, after adding 298 fatalities since its last count last week.
More than one-fifth of Spain’s deaths occurred this year in the capital region of Madrid, where the regional authorities have this week put 10 areas under tighter lockdown rules, amid concerns over another increase in infections. Regions like the Balearic Islands and Navarra are also tightening restrictions this week, while the health authorities in Andalusia said on Monday that they had detected five cases of the new coronavirus variant originating from Britain.
Alongside other European Union countries, Spain started its mass vaccination program on Sunday, with the goal of inoculating 2.5 million people between January and March. The first shots went to residents of nursing homes and the health care professionals who look after them.
In other developments around the world:
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