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Memorial Day weekend sees travel rush as COVID cases decline

▶ Watch Video: COVID-19 restrictions easing across U.S. as people celebrate Memorial Day

Americans are on the move this Memorial Day weekend, throwing aside pandemic restrictions to get a head start on summer. Big crowds are expected Monday at many popular destinations – a drastic change from one year ago.

Sara Blair, a manager at Hollywood Burger in Los Angeles, said the increase in visitors is a welcome sign of a busy summer ahead. “The past couple of days have been crazy,” she said.

CBS News correspondent Lilia Luciano asked, “What has business been like these days?”

“Super exciting, actually,” Blair said.

More than 37 million people planned to travel 50 miles or more this holiday weekend, according to AAA, up 60% from last year.

Airports are especially busy. While AAA projected about 2.5 million Americans were going to fly to their destination this weekend, the TSA said it screened just under 5.5 million travelers from Thursday through Saturday alone – shattering that projection. That is a massive increase from the same time in 2020, when less than one million passed through U.S. airports.

And this weekend marked some long-overdue reunions, including for the Hays family, who are visiting grandparents in Arizona. They flew for the first time in over a year. “It’s been over a year since we’ve seen them,” said Kara Hays.

Airports, the scenes for happy family reunions, saw a dramatic increase in traffic compared to a year ago.

CBS News

There are signs of recovery across the country, including the largest sporting event since the pandemic began, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where 135,000 fans watched racer Helio Castroneves’ Indy 500 win.

And while rain kept many inside along the East Coast, there were crowds at Boston’s famed Fenway Park and the streets of Washington, D.C., as well as on beaches and at water parks.

At Pacific Beach in Los Angeles, Lucy Rimalower said, “Real relief and celebration to be able to be outside again and feel safe.”

The travel rush comes as COVID cases decline to the lowest number of new cases in more than a year — 12,663 on Saturday — as more than half of Americans (50.5%) are now partially vaccinated.

“It’s actually getting better,” said Karen McPherson, visiting San Diego’s Mission Beach from Northern California. “We see light at the end of the tunnel. It is quite refreshing.”

President Biden has set a goal of 70% of adults having at least one shot by the next big holiday, July Fourth.

A recent poll found that nearly 80% of those questioned were planning to travel this summer – more than double the number last summer, well into the pandemic.

In Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, CBS News correspondent Meg Oliver reports that the nasty weather this holiday weekend could have really put a damper on business for the second straight Memorial Day. But despite the rain, the manager at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club said business was pretty good – indoor dining actually made up for the loss of outdoor seating. It’s another benefit of people getting vaccinated, leading to New Jersey lifting its statewide mask mandate on Friday and announcing restaurants can soon operate at full capacity.

And with a weeklong heat wave in the forecast, business along the shore is sure to heat up.

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