Holiday travel increasing dramatically despite public health warnings amid COVID surge

Despite public health pleas not to travel for the holidays due to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, a growing number of Americans are heading to the airport, including in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles International Airport says so far this month, passenger traffic is just 26% of what it was the same time last year -- but the Transportation Security Administration says the numbers across the nation are increasing dramatically.

"I'm traveling to see my children and my granddaughter and spent two days at Disney World, then I'll zip back and get back to work," said San Diego resident Suzi Lieber at LAX.

RELATED: Holidays could intensify COVID surge, force LA County medical facilities to 'go under'
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Mayor Eric Garcetti said hospital officials are telling him and his staff that if Los Angeles continues on its upward trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations through Christmas, the medical facilities will "go under."



For the first time since the pandemic started, TSA agents screened more than 1 million people for three consecutive days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- the start of the holiday travel season. However, those numbers are greatly reduced from last year -- down 57%.

"Life goes on. Whatever we need to keep going, it is what it is," said Clovis resident Claudia Winton. "We'll take caution and stay out of crowded places. The kids need to have fun."

AAA says the vast majority of travelers will be hitting the road.

Eighty-five million people are expected to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, the prime time for Christmas and New Year's travel -- most doing so by car.
Those at LAX, though, say they feel safe flying.

"Take all the safety precautions. I've been on the front lines for a while for this, and this is the time I needed to take a little break before going back on the front line," said Reggie Jones of Long Beach.

Meanwhile, a man with COVID-like symptoms died while aboard a Los Angeles-bound flight last week.

RELATED: United flight to LAX diverted due to medical emergency possibly linked to COVID-19

Now, federal health officials are working with United Airlines to determine if passengers aboard the flight -- which was diverted when the man suffered what was initially deemed a heart attack -- may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Passenger Megan Hubbard said the man was shaking and having a hard time breathing.

Hubbard said she and Cameron Roberts were just three rows away and heard the wife talking to EMTs.

"She immediately said he had tested positive like a week ago for COVID and that he was having symptoms, having trouble breathing," Hubbard said.

United says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has contacted the airline.

"We are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection," United said in a statement. "The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have various policies and procedures in place such as mask mandates and requiring customers to complete a 'Ready-to-Fly' checklist before the flight acknowledging they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days and do not have COVID-related symptoms."
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