Memorial Day weekend – marking the unofficial start to summer – may also mark America's comeback from the depths of the global pandemic.
Now more than half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, and mask mandates have been lifted across the country, with some places lifting all COVID-19 restrictions.
"As of 12:01 this morning, for the first time, since March 2020, there are no limits on our capacity, or distancing in Virginia's restaurants, businesses, offices, or other venues," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said. "That's something we can all be proud of."
And with more destinations open to the public, 37 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend. AAA says that's a 60% increase from last year – when only 23 million left home on trips of 50 miles or more over Memorial Day Weekend. Air travel is also rebounding, with two million people expected to pass through U.S. airports.
"Many airports have already returned or exceeded the 2019 pre-pandemic levels," said Acting TSA Administrator Darby LaJoye.
This year's holiday comes as multiple countries are reopening their borders, with so-called vaccine passports a vehicle for facilitating travel. For example, Ireland has announced it will adopt a COVID-19 certificate program for citizens traveling there from the European Union, the U.S. and Britain.
But one place that is hoping to ward off travelers is Japan – the host of the schedule Summer Olympics. The U.S. State Department is warning Americans not to travel there, after the country extended its COVID-19 state of emergency just a month before the start of the games. Japan has a low vaccination rate and health officials fear a new spike in infections.
"If the Games do go ahead, they will lead to a new disaster happening," said Naoto Ueyama, Chairman of the Japan Doctors Union. "Particularly if a new dangerous strain of the virus were to emerge that either weakens the effectiveness of the vaccines or could also make it easier for children to be infected, this means it is not an issue just for Japan but for the whole world."
In the U.S., the CDC shows 10 states have reached President Biden's goal of at least 70% of adults having one vaccination dose. And though daily cases are falling, so is the daily average of vaccine shots – with most adults who *want* to get vaccinated already having started the process.
Still the CDC says cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to fall over the next four weeks, a trend that seemed far out of reach at this time a year ago. But President Biden warns against complacency.
"But let me be clear, we're not done yet. We have to reach those who are not vaccinated and make it as easy as possible for them to get protected," he said.
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