Tens of thousands of travelers are expected to pass through Los Angeles International Airport this week, amid an alarming increase in coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County and calls from public health officials for people to stay at home and avoid reuniting with family and friends outside the home.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced air travel this year – at the start of the pandemic, airport volume declined 96% from the same time last year – but the number of people traveling has increased around Thanksgiving and again before Christmas, officials said.
The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.176 million passengers on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year – and 1.191 million passengers on Christmas Eve, according to agency data. Many are expected to start returning home to southern California on Sunday.
At LAX, the pandemic’s busiest day was Nov. 20, when TSA officials screened about 44,000 travelers, airport data showed. December 23 came in second, with around 43,000 passing travelers. Authorities expected a similar number on Sunday, usually another busy travel day, as many people return home after Christmas.
Airport spokeswoman Stephanie Sampson said it was difficult to predict the volume of travel amid the pandemic and last-minute cancellations.
“We haven’t made any predictions because we just don’t know,” she said.
Travelers arriving at LAX from other states or countries must self-quarantine for 10 days to see if they develop signs of illness. The quarantine also keeps people at home as much as possible, with groceries and restaurant meals delivered to avoid spreading the virus in the community.
The Auto Club of Southern California predicted that 5.7 million Southern Californians would travel during the year-end period between December 23 and January 3, with the overwhelming majority of them expected to travel by car. Only 355,000 residents of Southern California were expected to travel by plane during that time, down 54% from last year.
“People feel a lot more comfortable in a car with members of their own household,” said Auto Club spokesperson Doug Shupe.
Earlier this month, the Auto Club predicted that some travelers would cancel their plans in the days leading up to Christmas and New Years as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, as was the trend during Thanksgiving.
Still, many passengers have traveled and gathered with family and friends for Thanksgiving, contributing to what public health officials have called “wave after wave” of COVID-19 cases, which have flooded homes. beds in hospital intensive care units and pushed the Los Angeles County health care system beyond its capacity.
County health officials on Saturday reported nearly 30,000 new cases of the coronavirus over a two-day period, starting on Christmas Day. Local health agencies also reported 136 deaths during the two-day period. The county has averaged about 14,000 new cases of coronavirus per day and 88 deaths from COVID-19 per day over the past week.
Los Angeles County has now reported a total of more than 707,000 coronavirus cases and more than 9,440 deaths.
“We really can’t afford to repeat Thanksgiving mistakes,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week. “Another peak of winter vacation cases will be disastrous for our hospital system and ultimately mean many more people just won’t be with us in 2021.”