CDC warns again: This is not the year for Thanksgiving travel, people

Consider this the deadly wages of squandering credibility early in a crisis. The CDC started off the pandemic by screwing up test development, a setback for which we are still paying a high price, and then deliberately misleading on mask usage in order to preserve PPE supply in the early days. The agency has played catch-up on credibility ever since, which is one reason why Americans seem comfortable flocking to high-density travel options just as the pandemic’s second (or arguably third) wave is cresting in diagnoses, hospitals, and deaths.

They’re just not paying attention to the CDC, or at least not enough to matter, and it’s going to be costly:

Last week, the CDC urgently warned Americans away from travel:

The Centers for Disease Control is advising Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving next week, saying Thursday that the extraordinary spike of a million new cases over the last week raises new concern that family gatherings could spread the virus among families and communities.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year,” the new guidelines state. …

The number of Americans diagnosed with and hospitalized for COVID-19 have skyrocketed in almost every state in recent weeks. The country reported more than 165,000 new cases on Wednesday, according to CDC, and 20 states were at the highest numbers of people hospitalized for COVID-19 than any other point in the pandemic earlier this week, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The response? Even as COVID-19 cases set new epidemiological records in the US, so are travelers:

Over the weekend, more than three million people passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints nationwide. Sunday marked the busiest day for air travel since the pandemic began with the agency screening 1,047,934 people.

Airlines have given up middle seats and imposed mandates for mask wearing as ways to boost confidence in using their services. They have produced scientific data that shows their ventilation systems aren’t the high risk for viral transmission that everyone assumes they are. The problem isn’t the planes themselves, however, but the processes you have to go through to get on and off of them. Those are close-quarters, high-density places and processes, and each traveler has to pass through them four times in a round-trip flight — and that’s for non-stop.

Take a look at the crowd at the gate in the CBS clip, which I captured for the front-page image to the post (also at the top). Bear in mind that every single person in that frame runs the risk provided by the dumbest person in the room. If even one person in that room has asymptomatic but contagious COVID-19 infection and their mask slips, then everyone in that area breathing and rebreathing the aerosols with the virus runs the risk of bringing it home to their families at some point, regardless of whether they themselves tested negative before traveling.  Multiply that frame by as many airports and flights that will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend, and you get a really good idea why doctors are saying that “this is a recipe for disaster.”

At the very least, everyone in that frame had better commit to a two-week quarantine at the end of their travel after assuming this much risk of exposure. If they come home and then spend time in close contact with friends and non-household family, anything they picked up along the way will get spread in those family/friend get-togethers. If those include elderly people, God help them.

Just because the CDC has squandered its credibility (and hypocritical governors issue do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do directives) doesn’t mean the rest of us have to squander our intellects and sense. Don’t travel in a pandemic, especially through crowded terminals. If you have family members who do, don’t get around them until after the 14-day gestation period has passed. Be smart, especially since vaccines are only weeks away from resolving this problem.