Holiday Travelers Should "Assume That You Were Exposed" To COVID-19, Health Expert Says

Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House coronavirus task force member, urged families that traveled for Thanksgiving to get tested immediately and avoid contact with loved ones who are over 65 or have health conditions.

Travelers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) go through security before boarding a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 24, 2020. | Reuters
Travelers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) go through security before boarding a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 24, 2020. | Reuters

A top U.S. health official has urged Americans who traveled over Thanksgiving to assume they were exposed to COVID-19 and get tested immediately. The warning comes as the U.S. has seen record daily case numbers in recent weeks and as hospitalizations on Sunday reached a record high of more than 93,000, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project. 
 
"If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected," Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”

As November saw the highest number of known COVID-19 cases in the U.S. this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory against Thanksgiving travel didn’t appear to deter Americans from doing so. According to the Transportation Security Administration, Sunday was the busiest day for air travel of the pandemic, followed by the day before Thanksgiving. 

“It’s the highest volume since March 16 and only the 4th time passenger throughput has topped 1 million since that date,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted Thanksgiving Day

Birx urged Thanksgiving travelers to get tested in the next week and avoid family members who are over 65 or have health conditions.

She also suggested that families that chose to travel for Thanksgiving wear masks indoors to avoid spreading the virus to their loved ones.

“So if you’re young and you gathered, you need to be tested about five to 10 days later. But you need to assume that you’re infected and not go near your grandparents and aunts and others without a mask,” she said. “We’re really asking families to even mask indoors if they chose to gather during Thanksgiving and others went across the country or even into the next state.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, echoed similar grim warnings Sunday during an appearance on ABC. Fauci repeated that public health experts had expected a spike in cases to coincide with colder months.

“We may see a surge upon a surge. We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s just the reality,” he said.

Birx also urged Americans to take personal responsibility for their safety if their state or local leaders aren’t enforcing their own policies meant to slow the spread of the virus.

“If your governor or your mayor isn’t doing the policies that we know are critical — masking, physical distancing, avoiding bars, avoiding crowded indoor areas — if those restrictions don’t exist in your state, you need to take it upon yourself to be restrictive,” Birx said. “You need to not go to these places.”

As of Monday, the U.S. has more than 13.4 million COVID-19 cases, including more than 267,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins University.