Christmas travel appears heavy despite COVID warnings

Coronavirus Update for New York City
NEW YORK (WABC) -- Experts say it's a fact that traveling raises your risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus, and that's why millions of Americans are choosing to stay home this weekend.

Millions more, however, appear to be ignoring government warnings.

On Wednesday, December 23, the TSA screened 1,191,123 people at airport checkpoints nationwide. It's the highest checkpoint volume since March 16, when 1,257,823 people were screened.

Despite warnings from the CDC and other agencies against traveling for the holidays, officials say more than 6 million travelers have been screened since Friday, December 18.

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That's down around 60% from the same time last year, but it amounts to around a million passengers per day, or about what the U.S. saw in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, when some Americans likewise disregarded warnings and ended up contributing to the nationwide surge.

And now there's a new concern, with a more contagious mutation of COVID-19 detected in the United Kingdom.

At issue for New York is that even during the pandemic, there are several direct flights every day between JFK International Airport and London.

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Absent any federal action, New York state is now ordering those travelers to quarantine or face fines.

"This is going to be the busiest travel time of the year when you think about all these days, up through New Year's intensive travel time," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "We need people not to travel but if they do, we're going to be very, very stringent about the rules."

In New York City, the sheriff's office is threatening to visit travelers arriving from the UK personally.

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"There will be a follow-up direct home or hotel visit from the sheriff's deputy to confirm they are following the quarantine," de Blasio said. "If they are not, they will be penalized. We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling from the UK."

For those who don't comply, there will be a $1,000 fine per day of noncompliance.

Meanwhile on the roads this weekend, AAA expects 81 million Americans will be driving somewhere.

That's down by about 25% from 2019, but it's still a lot of people, more than enough to cause some delays on area roads.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams encouraged people to celebrate only with people in their households, but added that if they can't follow the guidance, they should take precautions, such as ensuring good home ventilation.

"We can't let fatigue cause us to make poor decisions this holiday season that end up making us backtrack, especially when we are so incredibly close to getting ourselves and everyone else across the finish line," he said, referring to the start of COVID-19 vaccinations.

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ABC7 Chicago's Mark Rivera walks you through how to use the COVID-19 vaccine calculator to find your place in line to get the shot.


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