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Millions projected to travel over Labor Day weekend despite COVID-19 concerns

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Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStockBy MINA KAJI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Millions are projected to travel this holiday weekend despite COVID-19 concerns. Labor Day flight bookings are only around a third of what they were last year, according to data analysis from travel itinerary app TripIt, but reservations to Florida have jumped 200 percent.

“Florida is this year’s hot spot,” TripIt said in its findings. Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale are all listed among TripIt’s top 25 Labor Day travel destinations as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the Sunshine State as having the second highest total number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Matthew Meltzer, a freelance travel writer, is flying from Louisville, Kentucky, to Miami this weekend to visit friends.

“I understand there’s a lot of cases, but it’s just a risk you run,” Meltzer told ABC News. “Life is full of risks.”

The flight to Miami will be Meltzer’s fourth trip on an airplane since he left Europe in March.

“It’s the only place to go where they really are militant about making everyone wear a mask,” he said. “They obsessively wipe everything down.”

Twenty-four-year-old Mollie Markey of Portland, Oregon, is taking her first flight amid the pandemic – heading to Los Angeles Thursday to celebrate a birthday alongside seven of her friends from college in Palm Springs, California.

California has had the highest total number of COVID-19 cases out of any state in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“I know our physical health is just as important, but for me right now, it’s prioritizing my mental health,” Markey said. “To be able to get out and be with people that I really care about.”

Markey and her friends all got tested for the virus last week and plan on getting tested when they return home.

Testing has even given some Labor Day holiday travelers enough confidence to venture outside of the U.S for the long weekend.

Sonya Castellanos, 36, is getting a COVID-19 test before flying from Los Angeles to Cancun, Mexico, for a scuba diving trip.

“I went camping in an RV last week and it was great, but I’m ready to go scuba diving,” Castellanos said. “I have done everything that I could possibly do – I’ve gone paddleboarding like every week, I’ve done crazy expensive hikings, I quit my gym and bought a Peloton, but this is it. Six months is it for me.”

Pittsburgh-based travel agent Mollie Fitzgerald of Frontiers International Travel told ABC News that while bookings are considerably down she is seeing some people that are “just dying to go somewhere.”

“I see people craving big wide open spaces, being in the outdoors,” Fitzgerald said. “And I think some people are using the Labor Day weekend to get together as a family, and plan for the future, plan the big trip, you know, a bucket list trip for 2021.”

Experts are concerned the uptick in travel might translate to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s very predictable,” ABC News contributor Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer for the Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, said. “Major holidays, where people are moving — increases in mobility lead to transmission, and you see cases start to surge two weeks later. We saw that with Memorial Day and we saw that with July 4. Unfortunately, we’re sort of saying the same thing over and over again — just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean that you should stop doing the things that we’ve been doing.”

On top of following CDC guidelines on masks and social distancing, Brownstein says the big thing is for travelers who are returning home to consult with their local public health officials about quarantine rules.

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