Americans are celebrating the start of the Memorial Day weekend by hitting the roads and skies as they seek to cast off more than a year of pandemic restrictions and try to resume a sense of normalcy.
Memorial Day honors Americans who have died in war and is also seen as the unofficial start to summer and a time when people traditionally travel to campgrounds, beaches and state parks.
While travel suffered last year because of coronavirus restrictions, this year Americans are looking to get back to their pre-pandemic routines.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged Americans to be patient this weekend at airports.
“People will see lines because there’s going to be a tremendous amount of people traveling this weekend,” he told ABC's “Good Morning America” on Friday.
More than 1.8 million people went through U.S. airports on Thursday, and that number is expected to rise during the weekend.
Mayorkas also reminded people that a federal mask mandate is still in place at airports and on airplanes.
The federal government and many state governments have relaxed masking mandates in many venues for people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Now that a majority of Americans have received inoculations against the disease, many are seeking to engage in activities that they haven’t been able to do for the past year, including vacations.
The U.S. travel group AAA said it expected a 60% jump in travel this Memorial Day from last year, with 37 million Americans planning to travel at least 50 miles from home, mostly by car. The travel boom comes despite higher prices for gasoline.
The Reuters news agency reported that the price index for typical Memorial Day activities rose this year about 4.3%, faster than the overall consumer price index. It listed higher prices over pre-pandemic rates for cookout fare such as hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as higher prices for dinner and drinks out, amusement parks, concerts and car rentals. Prices are below pre-pandemic levels for airfare and hotels.
Prices for many goods have been rising because of surging consumer demand as well as supply issues for both materials and labor.
U.S. President Joe Biden began the Memorial Day weekend by visiting an Air Force base in the eastern state of Virginia to thank U.S. troops for their service.
Biden spoke of his late son Beau, who was a veteran, and told the service members, “You are the very best of what America has to offer."
The president also visited a rock-climbing gym in northern Virginia as the state lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions. Biden thanked Americans who have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 and said the country has “gone from pain and stagnation of a long, dark winter to an economy on the move.”
Some cities are hoping to continue to increase the number of vaccinated Americans even during the holiday weekend.
Beachgoers at Ocean City, Maryland, and three popular Jersey Shore spots will be able to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We're going to make it possible for beachgoers to get some sun and at the same time get their first shot,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Friday.