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More than 4 million people in the US traveled for Thanksgiving, new data shows

Despite a growing number of Covid-related travel restrictions nationwide and caution from the federal government, more than 4 million people in the US spent...

Posted: Dec 15, 2020 8:20 AM
Updated: Dec 15, 2020 3:00 PM

Despite a growing number of Covid-related travel restrictions nationwide and caution from the federal government, more than 4 million people in the US spent Thanksgiving away from home, including more than 1.6 million who traveled out of state for the holiday, according to data shared with CNN by The Center for New Data.

Using geolocation data, the non-profit agency was able to anonymously track the movements of more than 30 million devices across the country. Comparing the location of a device on Thanksgiving to its established home base allowed the researchers to see how far individuals traveled and whether they crossed state or county lines in the process. Scaled to the full US population, that translates to 42 million people who spent Thanksgiving away from home, including nearly 17 million who traveled out of state.

The 30 million devices tracked show that nearly 2.5 million people -- more than half of those who spent the holiday away from home -- traveled more than 60 miles to their holiday destination, and about 91,000 devices were detected flying, the data shows, equating to nearly 5 million Americans who flew for the holiday.

About half of states have travel restrictions or safety measures in place, including California, which is under a statewide ban on non-essential travel, along with a regional stay-at-home order. Yet,the Center for New Data identified nearly 50,000 devices from California that went to other states for Thanksgiving and nearly 120,000 others that had traveled across county lines in their sample, likely representing more than 1 million Californians who left the state and 4 million people who traveled outside of their home county for Thanksgiving.

In Georgia, nearly 1 in 5 people crossed county lines to celebrate the holiday. Other Southern states -- including Arkansas, Virginia and Mississippi -- had similarly high shares of travelers.

Last week, the average number of new coronavirus cases reported each day reached a record high of nearly 214,000 cases per day, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

But it's likely that the Thanksgiving surge has yet to hit its peak. It generally takes two and a half weeks from an event to see a surge in new positive cases and potential hospitalizations, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That timing would put the surge sometime later this week.

Florida reported its highest single day of new cases the day after Thanksgiving. The state also had more than 123,000 out-of-state travelers on Thanksgiving, the data sample shows -- more than any other state, likely representing more than 1 million when scaled to the full population.

A week before Thanksgiving, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued some of its strongest guidance on holiday travel yet, warning that 'as cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.'

Guidance from the federal agency around winter holidays is consistent. 'Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,' the CDC said on its website. 'Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.'

Upcoming data from The Center for New Data will include analysis on individual quarantine behaviors for the two-week periods before and and after Thanksgiving.

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