AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File In this Nov. 25, 2020 file photo, travelers walk through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, a day before Thanksgiving. More than 1 million people have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints in each of the past two days in a sign that public health pleas to avoid holiday travel are being ignored, despite an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…

More than 3 million people passed through US airport checkpoints over the weekend ahead of the Christmas holiday even as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to surge.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, upwards of a million people nationwide moved through TSA checkpoints on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 

The three-day surge marked the first time travel numbers exceeded one million since the days after Thanksgiving. The number of travelers are only expected to get even larger as Christmas approaches. 

At that rate, health officials predict it will likely be a repeat of Thanksgiving where many states, including Arizona, saw COVID cases surge after people returned home from holiday travel.

New Cases Surged After Thanksgiving Despite Warnings

Health experts warned the US that Thanksgiving gatherings and travel would lead to an increased spread of COVID-19.

Despite this, video taken at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport the Friday before Thanksgiving showed hundreds of people packed inside a busy terminal as they waited for their flights. 

Nearly 7.5 million people passed through TSA checkpoints from Nov. 22-29 and the surge in new cases came soon after.

Within a week after Thanksgiving, Arizona saw the highest number of new cases confirmed in one day on Dec. 8 with 12,314. The second-highest day came shortly after on Dec. 14 with 11,795 new positives. 

On Dec. 21—with 10 days left in the month—Arizona surpassed the number of new cases reported in November, which previously had the highest number of COVID-19 diagnoses. 

The need for intensive care unit (ICU) beds also quickly increased, leaving hospitals statewide in a crisis as the number of open beds dwindled into the single digits and some hospitals hit capacity. 

Before Thanksgiving, the highest daily count had been 5,954 cases on Nov. 23.

As of Monday, Arizona has reported a total of 461,345 cases and 7,972 deaths since the pandemic began.

The state currently has one of the highest new case rates in the country, behind Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and California, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s COVID Data Tracker.

Even more people are expected to travel by car in the coming weeks in addition to those flying. AAA Travel said fewer people are traveling in 2020 than in previous years, but an estimated 84 million people are still expected to leave home from Dec. 23-Jan. 3

With all this, the CDC is again urging people not to travel. CDC guidelines recommend that any holiday celebrations be limited to those who live together in the household, and virtual options used to celebrate with others. The concern is not only with traveling, but also with any subsequent large family gatherings as there’s a risk of contracting the disease and then spreading it to others.

If you do opt for an in-person gathering, the CDC recommends keeping them as small as possible and outdoors. It is also advised that those in attendance wear a mask when not eating.