North Carolinians who traveled during Thanksgiving contributed to rising COVID-19 cases

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Despite numerous warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, thousands of North Carolinians traveled to visit friends and families over the Thanksgiving holiday.

At the time, North Carolina was seeing its highest case trajectory to date--reporting more than 3,000 new cases for the first time on November 11. Just eight days later, the state saw its first day of more than 4,000 new cases on November 19.

But in the weeks following Thanksgiving, daily case trajectories in the 3,000s would have been a welcome sight. North Carolina has not reported fewer than 4,000 cases each day since December 2. This week, the state has reported an average of more than 5,500 new cases each day. Last Friday, North Carolina reported more than 7,000 cases in a single day for the first time; this Friday, that number rose to 8,444--the highest single day increase thus far in the pandemic.

On Friday, December 11, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen released a written statement attributing the spike in cases to the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We are now seeing the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings," Cohen wrote. "Do not wait until it is you or your loved one sick or alone in the hospital or you are facing the loss of a loved one to wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart, and wash your hands often."

The ABC-owned television station's data team analyzed anonymous cell phone data and COVID-19 data to find out how much a Thanksgiving trip across the country--or even just down the block--influenced case trajectories.

On average, 135 more US residents traveled outside their homes each day in the week of Thanksgiving than the week before. In North Carolina, the average was slightly higher at 143 people. Bigger counties like Mecklenburg and Wake showed the highest number of travelers.

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The data also showed a strong national correlation between high numbers of county residents that traveled more than 500 miles from their home the week of Thanksgiving and a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in that county the week after Thanksgiving. Nationally, 18 of the 20 counties reporting the most long distance travelers during Thanksgiving week also had increases in COVID-19 cases the following week.

In North Carolina, those counties mostly fall to the western edge of the state, including Wilkes, Avery, Alleghany, Mcdowell, Clay, and in central North Carolina, Montgomery and Moore counties. Many of those counties are now reporting some of the highest percentages of positive tests in the state, according to NCDHHS data.

In Moore County, an average of 11 more people per 100,000 residents traveled more than 500 miles in the week of Thanksgiving than in the week before the holiday. In the week after Thanksgiving, the county saw 30 more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents than during the holiday week.

Wake County reported about 11 more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the week after Thanksgiving than during the holiday week.

As the Christmas holidays approach, Fauci and other leaders have already warned US residents against traveling for the holidays, and to wear a mask around extended family and friends.
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