Even as vaccinations pick up in the U.S., public health officials say now is not the time for spring break travel. Otherwise, another COVID-19 surge could be on the way.
“In some parts of the country, the weather has started to warm up. And with the clocks [changing] this weekend, our days have seen a little bit more sunshine,” Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a press briefing this week. “And with the coming warmer weather, I know it’s tempting to want to relax and to let our guard down, particularly after a hard winter that sadly saw the highest level of cases and deaths during the pandemic so far.”
In fact, travel is already picking up quite a bit: Just this past Friday, more than 1.3 million travelers passed through U.S. airports, Dr. Walensky said. “This is the most travelers that we’ve had in a single day since last March, before the [World Health Organization] declared the global pandemic,” she continued. “We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless.”
Although it’s understandable that people would want to enjoy their vacations as the weather gets warmer (especially after such a devastating winter), Dr. Walensky warned that we are still very much not out of the woods yet.
“This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day,” she said. Back in mid-February, experts noted that the number of COVID-19 cases was showing a sharp decline from the January peak (more than 300,000 cases in a single day). Since the end of February, the numbers appear to have leveled off between 50,000 and 70,000 cases per day, according to estimates from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. That is a huge improvement from where we were at the beginning of this year, but these are also almost exactly the same numbers we saw at the peak of the July and August 2020 surge.
Unnecessary travel and reckless vacationing will only make those numbers worse. To avoid another COVID-19 surge in the coming weeks, Dr. Walensky said we need to keep up the public health measures we know can prevent the spread of coronavirus, including wearing well-fitting masks, social distancing, and getting a vaccine when we can.
“I’m pleading with you, for the sake of our nation’s health,” Dr. Walensky said. “These should be warning signs for all of us. Cases climbed last spring. They climbed again in the summer. They will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we continue to get more and more people vaccinated.”
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