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After huge drop in 2020, PDX expects surge in Memorial Day weekend travel

As more people travel, a doctor at OHSU says it is possible we could see another spike in coronavirus cases two weeks after people return.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Memorial Day weekend at Portland International Airport (PDX) looks a lot different this year compared to 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had just started. 

For the first time in months, health officials did not warn people against holiday travel. 

Stephanie Wieber and her family seized the opportunity to visit her dad in Arizona.

"I haven't seen my dad in two years since the pandemic started and I just needed to lay eyes on him," said Wieber. "When you have aging parents, it's hard to not know that they're okay." 

As COVID-19 cases go down and vaccination rates go up, Wieber says she feels comfortable enough to visit vulnerable, at-risk family members. 

"When I knew the kids could get vaccinated it was not a hard decision. So as soon as they said that was possible, we were in line and that gave us the freedom," the mother of three explained. 

Wieber will be among a much larger group traveling out of PDX for Memorial Day weekend compared to last year. Here's the number of travelers PDX is expecting for each day:

Friday, May 28: 34,000 to 41,000 

Saturday, May 29: 26,000 to 37,000 

Sunday, May 30: 32,000 to 38,000

Monday, May 31: 34,000 to 41,000 

Last year, the airport saw just under 8,000 travelers the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. In 2019 it saw about 65,000.

Nationally, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers screened close to 2 million people at airport checkpoints the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. TSA said that's the highest checkpoint volume it's seen since the pandemic started. 

But with more people traveling, Dr. Matthias Merkel at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) says it's possible we could see another spike in coronavirus cases two weeks after people return. 

"I anticipate it will be not be as bad as the spikes we saw over Christmas because much more vaccination has been done," said Dr. Merkel, "but I think it's a humbling reminder that this virus is still a threat and we need to continue to kind of be careful around that."

Wieber says careful is exactly how she approached her family's first big trip out of state since the pandemic.

"I've got two masks on, we're vaccinated but want to do everything we can to make sure we're okay," she said. "But it does feel like we've got some breathing room."

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