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Millions Of People Flying Despite Public Health Pleas To Stay Put

Crowds are seen at Washington's Reagan National Airport on Friday. More than a million people went through airport security each of the past two days, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Daniel Slim
AFP via Getty Images
Crowds are seen at Washington's Reagan National Airport on Friday. More than a million people went through airport security each of the past two days, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 2 million people have passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports over the last two days, according to statistics provided by the Transportation Security Administration. This is despite official guidance to stay home for the holidays as the coronavirus pandemic rages and the nation's death toll continues to rise.

On both Friday and Saturday, about 1.07 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints, the agency reported. That's down nearly 60% from last year, but still much higher than the typical checkpoint statistics since the pandemic began.

More than 17 million cases of the virus have been reported in the U.S., and over 317,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The TSA had expected passenger volume to increase during the end-of-year holiday travel season. In addition to the typical pandemic advice — keep six feet apart from others and wear a face mask — the agency advised arriving early to allow extra time to go through security. "COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment, so extra time will keep your stress level low," the agency said in a blog post Friday.

The TSA on Friday also reminded passengers that it has relaxed restrictions on how much hand sanitizer travelers can bring in their carry-on luggage — 12 ounces, up from the typical liquid max of 3.4 ounces.

But most Americans who travel for the holidays will do so by car. AAA projects the nation's roadways will be less crowded than last holiday season as many people stay home. The group said it expected at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year — a decline of 29%.

For those wishing to travel, the AAA cited recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Take a COVID-19 test a few days before travel, and another a few days after travel, while reducing nonessential activities.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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