ATLANTA — After a big jump in COVID-19 cases on Christmas Eve, numbers went back to similar trends we saw early December. However, the record-breaking numbers from December 24th are concerning health officials.
On Christmas, the Department of Public Health reported more than 5,000 COVID-19 cases. That's down from Christmas Eve's record of nearly 8,000 cases.
In total, Georgia has seen more than 530,000 cases since the pandemic got started. Health officials, including Dr. Jeremy Willis, who owns Priority Laboratories in Union City, are connecting part of that peak to holiday travel, and they worry cases will continue to spike in the new year.
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"We want to do the same things we were doing before the pandemic, in the midst, and the height of the pandemic," said Dr. Willis. "As contagious as this virus is, you cannot do that."
Regardless, many are doing just that. In fact, a record number of travelers took to the skies this holiday season.
Despite advice from the CDC to stay home, airports saw more than 1.1 million people flying the day before Christmas Eve. According to TSA numbers, that's the highest amount of travelers since mid-March.
"That mess was full -- top to bottom," said Gregory Reynolds who flew to Atlanta from Chicago. "There wasn't an empty seat."
The number of Christmas Eve travelers went down, with under 1 million catching a flight, compared to 2019 when more than 2.5 million people flew.
Dr. Willis says the many travelers airports have already seen could mean bad news going forward.
"You're going to have a spike of 5,000 deaths a day in January -- I promise you, you'll be at 5,000 deaths a day," he alerted. "That's going to continue until we let the virus die."
Experts say an increase in testing after Thanksgiving could also be reason for the Christmas Eve spike.
This week alone, the state has been doing about 40,000 tests per day -- that's about a 24% increase.
If you're traveling back after the holidays, the CDC recommends you get tested 1 to 3 days before your trip then again 3 to 5 days afterwards.
"I'm just not goin to let that box me in and determine how I'm going to live my life," said traveler Gregory Reynolds when asked why he flew during a pandemic. "If I take proper precautions, I should be able to act normally as long as I'm wearing my mask."