TSA screens highest number of travelers over holidays since COVID-19 pandemic began

A record number of travelers passed through U.S. airports over the holidays despite warnings to limit travel amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1,284,599 people at airport checkpoints nationwide on Dec. 27, agency records show. It was the highest number since the pandemic decimated the air travel industry earlier this year.

During the pandemic low on April 14, just 87,534 passengers flew nationwide.

While passenger volume remains down about 50% from the same time a year ago, Dec. 27 was also the sixth day over the last 10 in which volume has topped 1 million travelers, according to the TSA. 

Passengers walk through a crowded terminal at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on Dec. 27, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

The increase in passengers suggests many Americans ignored warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioning against travel for the holidays in an effort to limit the spread of virus. 

"The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel," Henry Walke, the incident manager for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, said in a press briefing earlier this month. "Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase."

In less than two months, the nation’s case numbers have more than doubled — now topping 19 million confirmed infections. The number of people in the U.S. who have died from the virus totals more than 334,000, which is more than one death for every 1,000 Americans.

A surge in infections linked to Thanksgiving has also lead to many hospitals running out of room to treat the severest COVID-19 cases, as well as facilities facing a serious staffing shortage.

RELATED: December is deadliest month of COVID-19 pandemic in US so far

Two vaccines against the virus, one developed by Pfizer and a second by Moderna, have been approved for emergency use in the U.S. Both started arriving at hospitals and long-term care facilities this month, where priority is being given to those most at risk and on the front lines of the crisis.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has warned that the U.S. remains at a critical phase of the pandemic — with the worst probably still ahead following the potential impact of holiday gatherings.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Fauci said he expects the U.S. to start vaccinating the general population "somewhere in the end of March, the beginning of April." 

He estimated that most Americans will have access to the new COVID-19 vaccines by mid-summer, adding that the process could take up to four months to reach all Americans who want to receive it.

RELATED: A look inside hospitals stretched thin during the holidays

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.