This story was published by the San Antonio Express-News on Nov. 24, 2020.
For weeks, many health officials and local leaders have been pleading for families to cancel their Thanksgiving travel plans and find safe, alternate ways to be together this year to help mitigate the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.
However, not everyone is heeding the advice.
Last weekend, 19,331 passengers passed through security checkpoints at San Antonio International Airport, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That is the largest three-day total since March. According to the TSA, 1 million travelers passed through U.S. airports on Sunday, the biggest single-day total since March.
In comparison to 2019, the crowd at the San Antonio airport was only 40 percent of what it experienced the weekend before Thanksgiving last year.
No matter how crowded the airport is, Dr. William Henrich, the president of UT Health San Antonio, warns traveling is risky.
“The safest mode to travel is a private automobile,” he said. “Air travel, bus or a train is not ideal because you are in a closed setting where breathing is re-circulated in most cases. Even if you’re wearing a mask, it’s a high-risk issue.”
Henrich worries the social gatherings this week will result in a “larger” peak than what Bexar County experienced in the summer after Memorial Day, when a wave of infections pushed local hospitals near capacity.
“As everyone makes their plans, everyone should understand that there are downstream effects of not being careful right now,” Henrich said. “This work is incredibly fatiguing, and it takes skilled people to do it. That is exactly why we need to be mindful of them in this critical moment in time.”
Officials reported 709 new cases Monday, and the county has logged more than 2,700 new infections since Friday. The seven-day rolling average is now 549, up from the low 100s in early October.
The positivity rate, which tracks the portion of people who test positive for the virus on a weekly basis, has risen to 10 percent, up half a percentage point since last week.
During his daily coronavirus briefing Monday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the behavior of residents during the holidays would determine the trajectory of the area’s outbreak over the next few weeks.
“We cannot stop this virus if you don’t change your behaviors,” Nirenberg said. “If you don’t heed the warnings this Thanksgiving holiday, you or your loved ones could be spending Christmas in the hospital. That’s just the facts.”
Here are a list of CDC recommendations for Thanksgiving:
• Seat guests by household
• Limit the number of people serving and handling food
• Use single-use items for food storage, eating and serving
• Keep the size of the gathering small
• Continue to practice mask-wearing, hand hygiene and physical distancing
• Consider open-air dining
Priscilla Aguirre is a general assignment reporter for MySA.com.