“Around the holidays people tend to travel more, so we expect numbers to increase during those weekends,” said Daniel Velez, a TSA spokesman. Travel numbers are predicted to remain lower than those in 2019 due to the pandemic, he said.
The highest number of single-day travelers during Thanksgiving week in New England so far — 27,761 people — was seen on Saturday, Nov. 21, according to the TSA. Last year, Friday, Nov. 22, was the busiest travel day with just under 93,000 people.
At Logan International Airport, the number of passengers has consistently been down about 80 percent “for several months now,” according to Jennifer Mehigan, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Before the pandemic, the airport regularly saw between 120,000 and 140,000 total travelers a day. Because there have been fewer passengers throughout the year, the airport staff was ready for the influx in passengers during Thanksgiving week, Mehigan said.
“Typically, the Thanksgiving holiday does tend to be a busy time at the airport, though nothing has been normal in this pandemic,” she said.
Data on the number of travelers during the holiday week at specific airports was not provided.
The risk of being on a plane isn’t what worries health experts, according to Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center.
Compared to the number of flights since the pandemic, there have been “relatively few” transmission events, she said.
“It’s the fact that people are moving around the country,” Doron said.
With different rates of infection in communities across the United States, Doron’s primary concern is that people who travel to areas where the virus is more prevalent may contract it and bring it back.
The same goes for people from Massachusetts who travel to areas where the virus is less prevalent, such as Vermont, putting those communities at risk.
“To me, that’s the main reason not to travel,” Doron said.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Doron said she was concerned to see long lines at testing facilities — “longer than we’ve ever seen before” — suggesting that people may be getting tested to meet travel restrictions or attend gatherings.
“Right now, we are looking at the real possibility of a second wave that could overwhelm our healthcare system,” Doron said.
Unlike the first wave of the virus in March and April, when many hospitals struggled to provide care for the surge in coronavirus patients, a second larger wave could prove too much for hospitals to handle.
“At this time, travel is not advised,” she said, emphasizing that travel outside of the state is discouraged “because we just don’t want to move that virus around more than we have to.”
Despite higher travel volumes during the holiday season, the overall decline in travel was expected among transportation officials, Velez said.
As predicted, however, Thanksgiving week proved to be the busiest of the year nationwide — by far.
“We have hit the 1 million passenger mark three times within the last week,” Velez said.
More than 900,000 air travelers were recorded twice during the week leading up to Labor Day. In the week before the Fourth of July, more than 700,000 people were recorded twice.
Coronavirus cases have spiked across the country over the past month, prompting public health officials to issue warnings against travel in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. As a result of holiday gatherings, experts predict a surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.
“The biggest risk is that you’re taking the virus from one place, and moving it to another,” Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, told the Globe on Monday. “You could be traveling when you’re asymptomatic and infectious, and you’ve now spread the virus across state lines or across towns.”
Based on data from last year, officials estimate Sunday’s numbers to be similar to the previous Saturday’s nearly 28,000 travelers.
At airports across the country, travel was down nearly 60 percent compared to the year prior, according to TSA data. More than 5.9 million people flew in the past week compared to about 14.4 million last year.
With more major holidays in the coming weeks, transportation officials expect the number of people who fly to be similar to Thanksgiving week but acknowledged the difficulty of making predictions at this time.
“Numbers are hard to predict throughout a pandemic. However, we do expect an uptick in travel during this time period,” Velez said. “The numbers should be close to what we have experienced during the last week.”
“It’s too early to have expectations for December,” Mehigan said.
With the possibility of a vaccine being approved in the coming months, Doron hopes people will realize the benefits of hunkering down and stopping the spread for good.
“People are wanting to be with family so badly,” she said. “Hopefully [the possibility of a vaccine] gives people hope that this is the only time public officials will be asking them” to stay home for the holidays.
Matt Berg can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.