Millions expected to defy health officials by traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday

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Dr. Fauci says crowded airports and indoor get-togethers could produce a new surge in infections

Despite warnings from health officials to avoid traveling to see extended family and friends this Thanksgiving, millions of Americans are expected to do just that this week. 

AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, estimates that 50 million people will travel over the “Thanksgiving holiday travel period,” the five-day period beginning Wednesday Nov. 25. 

The U.S. just recently surpassed 12 million cases of COVID-19, and Dr. Anthony Fauci -- the nation’s top infectious disease expert -- is warning that Thanksgiving travel could have a grim ripple effect this holiday season.

Mitigation measures still crucial

On Sunday, Fauci said the country is in “a very, very difficult situation at all levels” with confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing to rise. He said Americans who travel this week could potentially create a new wave of infections that will manifest a few weeks later and derail Christmas plans. 

Busy airports are a big concern for Fauci. “You are at a crowded airport, you are lining up, not everybody is wearing masks. That puts yourself at risk … that’s what’s going to get us into even more trouble,” he said.

He also said “seemingly innocent get-togethers” indoors could be risky. With “pandemic fatigue” setting in, many people may be tempted to flout COVID-19 mitigation measures like mask-wearing and social distancing. 

But Fauci reiterated that these safety measures are effective and continue to be necessary given that the nation has recorded a million new cases of COVID-19 a week for the past two weeks. 

‘We can get out of this’

Fauci’s warning came just a few days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly urged Americans not to travel and gather with relatives and friends outside of their “household bubble” this Thanksgiving holiday.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases,” the CDC said. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

But Fauci said better times aren’t too far off as a successful vaccine is on the way.

“If you can hang in there, we can get out of this,” he said. “Help is on the way, so you should not look at this as a hopeless situation.”

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