Labor Day 2021: Number of travelers reaches pre-pandemic levels, prompting fears of COVID surge

At a time when parts of the country are seeing an alarming lack of hospital beds, millions of people traveled and celebrated over this year's Labor Day weekend, and health officials are now bracing for the impact the holiday weekend will have in the weeks to come.

Doctors say travelers on short two-to-three day trips may not know they've been infected until after they return home to their regular activities.

"You can be contagious for even the first few days without symptoms. Once you've caught it, we do worry that people may not realize they've been exposed. They can bring it home to their family, to loved ones and to schoolmates," said Dr. John Rodarte with Huntington Health Physicians.

More than 3.5 million people were screened at U.S. airports between Friday and Saturday which is roughly the same number of people traveling during this time in 2019 before the pandemic.

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"I am expecting a bump. I'm hoping that we're not going to see a major spike. But, after every single holiday we have seen a bump in infections and hospitalizations and deaths," said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean at Brown University School of Public Health

And it's not just adults who are being impacted. At the end of August, children accounted for 22% of all COVID-19 infections -- 38,000 more cases than the month before.

"I think the Delta variant being more contagious than previous variants of the coronavirus is kind of a game-changer for pediatrics," said Dr. Michael Chang, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist with UT Health.

"If we want to protect kids, adults around them should be getting vaccinated. I think we can get kids back to schools safely. We have to monitor that schools don't drive more infections. We need to make sure adults in their lives have the shot," said Jha.

Health officials expect to see bumps in positive cases after holiday vacations. But until we see more people vaccinated, doctors say we may keep finding ourselves in the same place.

"Every time we keep thinking we're getting a handle on it and improving, then there's something else. Life takes hold and people want to be together again. We missed that and I understand that. But, unfortunately we keep going up and down, up and down," said Rodarte.
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