US air travel rises despite Thanksgiving pandemic warnings

US airports had their busiest weekend since March despite public health officials’ pleas for Americans to curtail Thanksgiving travel and even while the number of coronavirus cases passed 12m and hospitalisations continued to hover at record levels. 

More than 3m people passed through US airports last weekend, according to data from the US Transportation Security Administration. Nearly 1.05m travellers passed through US airport checkpoints on Sunday alone, the most since mid-March, when Covid-19 first began spreading throughout the US — although still less than half the number of people who travelled on the same day a year earlier. 

Air travel has been hit hard during the pandemic as people have put business and leisure journeys on hold to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has killed nearly 250,000 Americans. But it has started to climb back slowly, as lockdowns eased and cooped-up citizens ventured back out cautiously. 

With virus cases accelerating at an alarming rate and hospitalisations at 83,870 as of Sunday — a record high for the thirteenth day in a row — public health officials have raised the alarm about the potential for Thanksgiving holiday travel to further accelerate the disease’s rampant spread. 

“Cases, positivity, hospitalisations, deaths — we’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted,” Jerome Adams, the US surgeon-general, told ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday. “We want everyone to understand that these holiday celebrations can be superspreader events,” he added. “We want them to be as small and smart as possible.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, typically one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Nevertheless, thousands of Americans have queued up to receive coronavirus tests ahead of the holiday, driven by demand from people hoping to receive an all-clear before celebrating with friends and family. 

123% Rise in coronavirus hospital cases in New York in the past three weeks

State and local officials have urged people to stay at home and avoid large indoor gatherings, with some states — including New York, New Jersey and Illinois — limiting the number of people mingling from different households. 

Others, such as California — which reported a record one-day rise in cases over the weekend — have implemented curfews on restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses to limit their hours of operation. 

New York, which was hard hit by the pandemic in its earliest months, has moved to tighten controls once again as cases creep higher. New York City’s public school system, the largest in the US, has temporarily moved to all-remote instruction, while the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has warned that indoor dining may be shut down completely in the near future. 

Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, warned on Monday that the increasing number of patients with Covid-19 was starting to strain hospitals in parts of the state, including Staten Island, where an emergency facility will be opened at local officials’ request. 

“This is a toxic cocktail of dynamics and facts,” Mr Cuomo said on Monday. The number of hospitalisations in New York have risen 123 per cent in the past three weeks to 2,724, Mr Cuomo said — although that is still less than the more than 18,000 hospitalisations the state saw at its early peak.

Coronavirus cases in the US have been increasing at a breakneck pace in recent weeks, as the weather has cooled. Since the start of November, the US has added almost 3m new infections — a quarter of the country’s tally for the entire pandemic — and averaged a record 167,658 cases a day over the past week.

The Midwest has been hit hardest in the latest phase of the pandemic. Adjusted for population, the 12-state region has collectively averaged about 90 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people per day over the past week, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. That is double the rate of the next-worst region, the West, which includes California, Arizona and Wyoming.

Adjusted for population, about 41 people per 100,000 are currently hospitalised in the Midwest, compared with 23 per 100,000 for the south and more than double rates in the north-east and West.