COVID-19 spread when 5 million people left Wuhan for Chinese New Year, yet 50 million Americans will still travel for Thanksgiving

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said it was “alarmed” about the 1 million new infections over the last week, and recommended against traveling this Thanksgiving. Potential alternatives include a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends or loved ones and contact-free delivery of safely prepared traditional dishes to family and neighbors, the CDC added.

Despite these recommendations, AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, estimates that 50 million people will travel over the “Thanksgiving holiday travel period,” a five-day stretch from Wednesday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 29, down from 55 million last year; 95% will travel by car. AAA used economic forecasting and research from the insights firm IHS Markit.

AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel will fall by nearly half this year to 2.4 million from 4.58 million last year, the biggest annual air-travel decrease on record. “AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available,” the group says. “Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.”

‘Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.’

— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19 is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China. The early spread of the disease was likely helped by preparations for China’s Lunar New Year holiday, when people traveled to visit relatives, experts said. At the time, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said 5 million people had left the city before travel restrictions were imposed ahead of the Lunar New Year.

“COVID-19 rapidly spread from a single city to the entire country in just 30 days,” a paper released in February on the fatality rates of the disease in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA found. “The sheer speed of both the geographical expansion and the sudden increase in numbers of cases surprised and quickly overwhelmed health and public-health services in China.”

“People in China are estimated to make close to 3 billion trips over the 40-day travel period, or Chunyun, of the Lunar New Year holiday,” according to an article in The Lancet published in February. About a third of those 5 million people leaving Wuhan traveled to locations outside of Hubei province. “Limiting the social contacts of these individuals was crucial for COVID-19 control,” it said.

“Government policies enacted during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday are likely to have helped reduce the spread of the virus by decreasing contact and increasing physical distance between those who have COVID-19 and those who do not. As part of these social distancing policies, the Chinese Government encouraged people to stay at home; discouraged mass gatherings,” it added.

Related:Joe Biden’s pandemic plan

AAA said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health concerns and job losses, are dissuading some people from traveling. “With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10% drop in travel, the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008,” it said.

Risk factors to consider before attending a gathering include whether there is community spread of COVID-19; exposure during travel; the location and duration of the gathering, and whether it’s indoors; the number of attendees and capacity for physical distancing; and attendees’ preventive behaviors before and during the gathering, such as mask wearing.

The CDC said in a recent statement that “unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.” As of Thursday, the U.S. had reported nearly 11.7 million coronavirus cases, and 251,970 COVID-19-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

‘You may have to bite the bullet, and sacrifice social gatherings unless you’re pretty certain that the people you’re dealing with are not infected.’

— Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has worked with six presidential administrations, told CBS News last month: ”Household transmission now is assuming a greater element of the transmissibility. Don’t assume that because you’re in your own home with your own family that you’re not going to spread infection.”

Fauci said his children won’t visit. “Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year,” he said in the interview. “I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country and, in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport and get on a plane. All three of them want very much to come home for Thanksgiving.”

“People should be very careful and prudent about social gatherings,” he added. “You may have to bite the bullet, and sacrifice social gatherings unless you’re pretty certain that the people you’re dealing with are not infected, or have very recently tested, or they’re living a lifestyle in which they don’t have any interaction with anybody except you and your family.”

Last week, BioNTech SE

and Pfizer

announced progress in a vaccine and, Wednesday morning, said a final analysis showed 95% rather than 90% efficacy. On Monday, Moderna

 said its vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective. The companies’ findings have not yet been published as a preprint or in a peer-reviewed medical journal. 

Fauci has expressed optimism that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna would have vaccines available for 20 million people by the end of the year, but reiterated that there’s unlikely be a rollout for the broader population — beyond frontline workers like medical staff and school teachers, and people with underlying health conditions and older people at risk — until the second quarter.


in association with Oxford University; Johnson & Johnson

; Merck & Co.


; and Sanofi

are among other firms working on vaccines. Sanofi’s France chief Olivier Bogillot told CNews channel that its vaccine does not need to be kept freezing temperatures.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
the S&P 500 Index

and the Nasdaq Composite Index

 ended slightly up Thursday after closing down Wednesday with the rise in cases. But optimism remains: The Moderna vaccine, based on initial reports, does not need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures, helping any distribution efforts.

More Republican governors are dropping resistance to masks as infections soar and hospitals deal with a flood of cases. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we’ll lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health-care system will fail,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said this week, following in the footsteps of officials in West Virginia and North Dakota.

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