Birx Tells Thanksgiving Travelers: ‘Assume That You Were Exposed’ to COVID and Get Tested
More Americans went through airport security on Sunday than any day since the start of the pandemic
Dr. Deborah Birx and other top U.S. health officials are warning Americans that they were likely exposed to COVID-19 if they traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Despite pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving as COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high, air travel was back to pre-pandemic levels over the holiday weekend.
That led Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, to urge any travelers to get tested.
"If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected," she said on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday.
Birx said that those at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness should get tested now.
"If you're over 65 or you have comorbidities and you gathered at Thanksgiving -- if you develop any symptoms, you need to be tested immediately," she said.
RELATED VIDEO: Pfizer Says Early Study Shows Its Potential COVID Vaccine Is 90 Percent Effective
The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, said that more Americans went through airport security on Sunday than any day since the start of the pandemic. They screened 1.17 million people on Sunday and 9.4 million over the typical Thanksgiving travel period, which begins the Friday before the holiday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, asked travelers to quarantine once they return home. Because of the virus’ incubation period, even if people do not believe they have been exposed to a COVID-positive person, symptoms may appear in the coming days.
"Right now, as people go back we want to urge them, if they've been in situations outside of the family setting in which they really don't know the level of exposure, to be really careful when you either return from the place that you went or other people come back into your house," Fauci said on ABC’s This Week.
"We have to be careful now because there is almost certainly going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," he said. "We likely will have an increase in cases as we get into the colder weeks of winter and as we approach the Christmas season."
On Friday, the U.S. reported a record-breaking 205,460 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high of 93,238 as of Sunday. More than 13,447,300 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and at least 266,758 have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.