'So many points of potential exposure' on airplanes, UCSF doctor warns amid Thanksgiving travel

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As COVID-19 cases surge in California and the U.S., Americans are traveling at numbers not seen since before the pandemic.

The CDC is warning Americans to avoid travel this holiday week and though airports are busy, SFGATE travel expert Chris McGinnis told ABC7 that travelers are taking precautions and wearing masks.

McGinnis, along with Dr. Alok Patel, joined ABC7's program "Getting Answers" on Monday to discuss air travel safety as the U.S. sees a new wave of the virus as we approach Thanksgiving.

Though airlines are keeping planes clean and passengers are taking the necessary precautions, Dr. Patel says Americans are flying to another high-risk situation: Thanksgiving dinner.

RELATED: Thanksgiving travel: TSA screens 1 million for the first time since March despite COVID surge

"When you have a million people traveling in one day you have to think about the fact that there are so many points of potential exposure to one another," Patel said.

The high-risk activity of Thanksgiving "gives you a feeling of uneasiness," Dr. Patel said.

Patel says car travel is the better option, partly because contact tracing is difficult if someone becomes infected with the virus during air travel.

"Contact tracing in this situation is exceedingly difficult," Patel said.

RELATED: San Francisco Thanksgiving travel down 75%, but still busy despite warnings, SFO spokesperson says

The San Francisco airport saw about 60,000 departures this weekend, down from 240,000 this time last year, according to latest data.

As far as overall travel this week so far, "I think it's about what we expected," McGinnis said.

"People are going to encounter packed flights definitely," he said.

In terms of precautions airlines are taking to keep passengers safe, McGinnis says each airline thinks they're doing the best job.

"They're all doing an equally good job, it just depends how full the flight is," he said.

It also depends on how much attention flight attendants are paying to cleanliness, McGinnis said.

Watch the entire interview in the media player above.

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