NEW YORK -- Nearly 1 million passengers traveled through U.S. airports Saturday and officials are expecting even more Sunday despite surging coronavirus cases.
According to Transportation Security Administration data, 964,630 travelers passed through TSA checkpoints on Saturday, a bump from 560,902 on Thursday and 820,399 on Friday.
Yet travel industry groups expect Sunday -- as everyone heads home from their holiday destinations -- to be the busiest day of travel since the pandemic-related shutdowns began in March.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to avoid travel for Thanksgiving, but millions have flown since that warning. As of Sunday, more than 13.2 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and at least 266,000 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Experts say that if people disregarded new state and local restrictions and socialized anyway, that could put greater stress on overburdened hospitals and lead to an even bigger spike in sickness and death over the holidays.
"We're going to feel these effects in two or three weeks, increased cases, increased hospitalizations and increased deaths," said Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Massachusetts.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and George Washington University School of Public Health professor, told CNN that anyone who traveled to visit with family and friends or hosted guests outside their immediate household unit should quarantine.
"By quarantine, I mean that you should act as if you've been exposed to someone with coronavirus, because you could have. That means you should not be around others as much as possible. Do not go into work. Keep kids out of school. Get groceries delivered. Definitely do not get together with others during this period," she said.
Despite high travel rates amid a global pandemic, AAA projected Thanksgiving travel fell by at least 10%, which would be the steepest one-year plunge since the Great Recession in 2008. An estimated 48 million Americans were expected to travel by car this year, down by just 4% from 2019.