RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With spring break season in full swing, air travel is starting to take off amid the pandemic.
Health experts said the biggest risk for spreading COVID-19 isn’t on the plane or in the airport, but rather how travelers act when they get to their destination.
“For the week ending Sunday, we had more than 55,000 departing passengers. That’s second only to the week between Christmas and New Year for traffic since the pandemic began,” said Stephanie Hawco, director of media relations at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Hawco said the airport is still down 55-60 percent compared to 2019 traffic.
“It’s not where we want it to be, but it’s definitely a sign we’re beginning to recover,” she said.
Hawco said RDU is still enforcing a mask mandate and encouraging all passengers to follow safety protocol.
Dr. David Weber is a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and epidemiology at UNC’s School of Medicine and Gillings School of Global Public Health. He said although air travel is still a risk, he’s more concerned about what people do when they get to their destination.
“If you’re going to just visit a couple of immunized people and you and your immediate loved one have been immunized, that’s probably safe. But if where you’re going, you’re going to be in large groups, not wear a mask, other people do not wear a mask, that’s the risky activity,” he said.
Scenes of spring breakers partying maskless on beaches is sparking concern for the director of the CDC.
On Monday Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the United States could see a resurgence of the virus if safety measures aren’t followed before more people get vaccinated.
“I’m pleading with you for the sake of our nation’s health,” she said.
Dr. Weber says even with the vaccine rollout, he doesn’t believe the United States will reach herd immunity by late spring or summer.
“We can see light and the end of the tunnel; we have to continue our mitigation efforts for several more months,” he said.
He cautioned against traveling, unless essential, and to wear masks, frequently wash hands, and social distance.
Weber said even those fully immunized need to take precautions.
“You want to go see another small bubble, meaning parents or children who are fully immunized. They say that you can do that and eat indoors and take your mask off with very low risk,” Weber said. “Any larger bubbles, more people, people at high risk, unvaccinated people, then you all need to be wearing masks.”