Despite case rates of COVID-19 being more than three times higher than they were on Labor Day weekend in 2020, the TSA screened more than 4 million additional passengers over the long weekend this year, the agency said.
The increase in travel comes despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control, which urged last week that unvaccinated people should avoid travel and urged caution for vaccinated travelers.
With cases of COVID-19 already on the rise, health experts across the country fear Monday's holiday could have facilitated the spread of the virus, potentially sending more Americans to already crowded hospitals.
On Labor Day 2020, the U.S. found itself fairly in control of the pandemic, with daily cases averaging about 35,000 a day. But in the weeks and months following the holiday, case counts began to climb uncontrollably, peaking at more than 250,000 new cases a day by January 2021.
With Labor Day marking the start of fall — and the arrival of colder weather and more indoor congregation — the U.S. finds itself with a much higher rate of spread. Despite the widespread availability of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, case rates are more than three times higher than they were on Labor Day 2020 at more than 117,000 a day.
The current spike in cases has been driven by the delta variant, a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that is currently spreading across the world.
The good news is that widespread vaccinations have helped limit COVID-19 deaths. Despite seeing more than three times as many daily cases on Labor Day 2021 compared to last year, the U.S. only sees about 1.8 times as many daily deaths.
The bad news? Hospitalizations are far higher now than they were at this time last year, meaning an impending fall spike in hospital resource use could be devastating.
Concerns regarding an impending spike from Labor Day prompted CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walesnky last week to recommend that those who are not vaccinated avoid travel. She also said that those who are vaccinated and choose to travel need to be cautious.
"We have actually articulated that people who are fully vaccinated and who are wearing masks can travel," Walensky said. "Although, given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take their own, these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling first and foremost."
Despite the warnings from the CDC, the Transportation Security Administration screened 7.3 million travelers between Friday and Monday, compared to 3.2 million travelers for the same weekend in 2020. That marks a year-over-year increase of more than 4 million additional travelers.