The outlook for a pandemic in the United States continues to improve, with confirmed cases of Covid-19 dropping for the sixth week in a row and deaths declining in the past three weeks. But spring break is on the horizon, leading to a potential surge in travel, which has public health experts worried about the consequences if people don’t stay vigilant.
Anxiety over spring break travel is increasing after a particularly bleak few months when the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths increased dramatically after the holiday season. And with several strains of the coronavirus circulating in the country – including some variants believed to be more transmissible – some experts fear that spring getaways could threaten recent progress.
“Any event involving increased travel and people relaxing preventative measures is of concern,” said Amber D’Souza, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
D’Souza said the patterns that have emerged over the past year show how much the trajectory of the pandemic is being driven by changes in behavior. For example, when places have severe outbreaks, people typically respond by staying home, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. But as the situation improves and restrictions are lifted, many tend to become more lax, which can lead to a resurgence of new epidemics.
“This is exactly what we saw after Thanksgiving and after Christmas,” she said. “It’s a continuous cycle and a constant concern.”
Last March, the United States was just beginning to emerge as the new center of the pandemic, and states have struggled to contain the spread of the virus over the past year. The United States killed 500,000 from Covid-19 on Sunday, eclipsing the death toll of all other countries.
Although the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has declined in recent weeks, the United States still averages more than 1,000 deaths a day from Covid-19.
“The rates have come down,” D’Souza said, “but they’re still not what we consider low. We’re just a lot better than what we were a month ago.”
D’Souza said some spring break trips last year led to local outbreaks, but the true impact of the spring trip may never be known as the data has not been tracked to scale. national. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in particular, has come under heavy criticism for refusing to close beaches last March, even as the coronavirus spread through the state.
This year, some officials are adopting new restrictions before spring break. Miami Beach is introducing a midnight curfew in the Entertainment District, and alcohol is prohibited on the beach.
“If you come here because you think it’s a good place, please turn around or go somewhere else,” Mayor Dan Gelber told WPLG-TV on Monday.
At the same time, US airports are reporting a steady increase in passenger numbers compared to last year, although the level of travel to the US remains significantly lower overall.
Clayton Reid, CEO of travel marketing firm MMGY Global, said the rebound started last summer and is expected to continue.
“We expect a huge return from travel in the spring and summer,” he said, adding that pleasure travel, in particular, is expected to increase sharply once vaccinations become available for a larger portion. Population.
In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans to avoid unnecessary travel.
But if people are planning on taking spring getaways, there are ways to reduce the risk, said Dr Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary medicine and critical care specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Overall, driving elsewhere will always be safer than having to be at airports or bus stations or taking the train with other people,” he said.
Outdoor experiences, such as camping trips and visits to state or national parks, are also less risky, he said. But regardless of the destination, Khabbaza and D’Souza said, it’s important to avoid large gatherings, wear masks and practice social distancing.
“You want to be masked or find a remote location,” D’Souza said. “If you are sitting in a crowded bar with a lot of people unmasked, this is definitely a potential source of transmission.”
D’Souza said she recognizes people may be facing pandemic fatigue and are looking for an escape, especially as the weather warms, but urged people to be cautious and weigh the risks. .
“If people aren’t traveling at all, that’s the safest thing,” she says. “But if people choose to travel, it’s about being smart.”