Despite warnings, travel increases across Houston and US

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- According to numbers from the World Travel & Tourism Council, the global travel industry lost nearly $4.5 trillion in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

The industry is beginning to rebound, but longtime travel agent PJ Douglas Sands of LUXE Worldwide isn't ready to say the industry is back.

"We're on the upswing," she said.

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The Department of Transportation's Bureau of Travel Statistics keeps data on COVID-19-related travel. In April 2020, the first full month of the pandemic, an average of 53,038 Texans a day took a trip of more than 500 miles. That number has increased to an average of 93,636 a day this month. Those statistics include a variety of travel methods, including rail, air, and driving.

"I definitely see more travelers looking to travel," Sands said. "People are kind of tired of being cooped up at home."

Statistics from the Houston Airport System show a similar trend.

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A total of 1.7 million passengers traveled through Houston airports in February of this year compared to 242,000 in April 2020. Overall, the TSA screened 1.5 million passengers nationwide on Sunday alone, the largest such number since March 12.

"This was something TSA was prepared for," said TSA spokesperson Patricia Mancha. "We do see that, as people get vaccinated, they're wanting to travel more."

The increase in travel goes against current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states avoiding travel is still the safest thing to do during the pandemic, whether you're vaccinated or unvaccinated.

"Slow down," said Isabel Valdez, a physician assistant and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. "The vaccine is there to protect us from getting infected, but we also have to remember we can still catch the infection."

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If you insist on traveling, Valdez said traveling by vehicle is still the safest choice.

"Make it a road trip with yourself and the fewest amount of people in your car," she said.

When will travel be fully considered safe? When can we consider the travel industry to fully recover? Both Valdez and Sands said the answer lies in herd immunity, whenever that time comes.

"It's going to take having more and more people vaccinated," said Valdez. "It might be a few more months, it might be this time next year, but everyone has to raise their sleeves and get the shot."

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