More people flew in the U.S. over the weekend of Oct. 16-18 than at any other point in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.
The TSA crossed a long-awaited threshold Sunday, screening 1 million passengers at airport checkpoints for the first time since March 17, spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said in a release.
That wasn't the only new record: TSA also screened 6.1 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide during the week (Monday, Oct. 12, through Sunday, Oct. 18), its highest weekly number since the start of the pandemic.
"Although passenger volumes remain well below pre-pandemic levels, the one million single-day passenger volume is a noteworthy development that follows significant TSA checkpoint modifications in response to the COVID-19 outbreak," Farbstein said, referencing precautions such as plexiglass barriers and having passengers screen their own travel documents.
However, those numbers could prove to be short-lived if current COVID-19 trends continue and the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal on a new stimulus package to help keep airlines afloat.
On Friday, there were nearly 70,000 new cases reported across the country, numbers the likes of which haven't been seen since mid-July. One week earlier, nine states – Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – all reported record numbers of new cases.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday the White House has 48 hours to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief before the Nov. 3 election.
United and American, which began laying off thousands of employees when $25 billion worth of payroll support program funds expired Sept. 30, have said they would recall workers if a deal came through soon.
The TSA screening figures have been climb slowly but steadily since hitting their lowest point in April when several days were under 100,000. At that point, many states had instituted coronavirus lockdowns, air traffic from Europe, the U.K. and Ireland had ceased due to travel bans and U.S. airlines were still several weeks away from requiring all passengers to wear masks.
Along the way, TSA employees have risked their health: 2,134 have contracted the coronavirus and eight have died. As of Oct. 19, there are still 246 active cases.
In June, the agency suffered a public relations black eye when Jay Brainard, the top TSA official in Kansas, filed a whistleblower complaint, saying it had failed to provide enough protective equipment to personnel who come into close contact with the traveling public.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that our people became Typhoid Marys and contributed to the spread of that virus because TSA senior leadership did not make sure (screeners) were adequately protected," Brainard told the Associated Press. He faulted the TSA for not training staff to deal with the pandemic and barring supervisors from giving screeners stockpiled N95 respirators in March, when facial coverings such as surgical masks were hard to buy.
After his complaint went public, the TSA announced that officers would be required to change their gloves after every passenger pat-down or carry-on bag inspection. The agency also began requiring officers to wear face shields or protective eyewear when working in close contact with passengers in areas where no plastic barrier was installed.
Contributing: John Bacon, Joel Shannon, Curtis Tate and Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus travel: TSA hits 1M daily airport screening record