Spring break season has started, sparking fears of COVID-19 spread as more states ease coronavirus-related rules.
The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday said it’s taking steps to prepare for a possible surge in airline passengers during the spring break travel period, which lasts through April.
But health officials continue to warn about trips as they cite the pandemic’s ongoing risks.
“Any event that involves increased travel and people relaxing preventative measures is a concern,” said Amber D’Souza, a epidemiology professor at Johns Hopkins University, according to NBC News.
Though the seven-day average of U.S. coronavirus cases has dipped in recent weeks, the figures are still above peak levels seen earlier in the pandemic. The nation has also recorded the presence of three variants that cause the virus and may more easily spread.
Virus risks remain
“At the level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have made,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”
Walensky also said it’s too early for states to relax more rules, according to a video the White House COVID Response Team posted Monday on Twitter.
“I am really worried about reports that states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.
This week, at least four states announced they would take steps toward easing coronavirus-related restrictions. Louisiana, Michigan and Mississippi relaxed rules for venues, the Associated Press reported.
Texas became the largest state to pull back its restrictions when Gov. Greg Abbott called for allowing businesses to fully reopen and lifted a statewide mask mandate. After the announcement, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he would have wanted the mandate to end after spring break, according to the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth.
Diana Cervantes, an epidemiologist at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, said it’s risky for restrictions to go away before the anticipated uptick in travel for spring break, The Dallas Morning News reported.
“We don’t want a spring break spike,” she said, according to the newspaper. “Right now we’re at a critical cusp point where things could definitely turn around. It could either go up or down.”
Travel during COVID
As spring break trips get underway, the CDC urges people to postpone travel to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the agency said on its website. “CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time.”
For those who must leave their homes, health officials recommend getting tested for the virus and being vaccinated before the trip, if possible. While traveling through public places, everyone should wear face masks and practice social distancing, according to experts.
Across the United States, travel volumes have been down at airports since the start of the pandemic.
TSA expects that trend to continue but said there could be an increase in spring break passengers. To prepare, the agency said it’s working to vaccinate its officers and create contactless options for people taking flights.
“There is no higher priority than our operational readiness as well as the health and safety of our workforce and the traveling public,” Darby LaJoye of the TSA said in a news release.