(NEW YORK) -- The upcoming Memorial Day weekend will mark a dramatic contrast from the same weekend last year as COVID-19 cases continue to decline, vaccination rates are up, and more Americans return to traveling and visiting with friends and family.
More than half of American adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and case rates have declined significantly in recent weeks, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to relax recommendations against traveling and gathering in groups outdoors or with other fully vaccinated individuals.
The number of Americans being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 has declined significantly, adding to the positive signs allowing officials to relax restrictions across the country and Americans to breathe a sigh of relief. Since January the average number of deaths a day has declined 88% and are now stable or declining in all but one part of the country. The U.S. averages approximately 435 coronavirus related deaths every day, the lowest daily death average since March 31, 2020.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said vaccinated Americans can enjoy a safe Memorial Day weekend, and asked that people who aren't vaccinated continue to take steps to protect themselves from becoming infected or spreading the virus.
"If you're vaccinated, go enjoy your Memorial Day weekend. Certainly you -- we've all been longing for some time away, some time to do the things we love with the people we love," Walensky said at an event with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
"And if you're not vaccinated, give yourself a gift this holiday weekend and get vaccinated so you can protect yourself, your family and your entire community."
President Joe Biden previously said Americans could celebrate the Fourth of July this year with their loved ones -- and without masks -- if enough people got vaccinated that the virus was no longer as much of a threat.
Walensky said she's not as worried that cases will rise after this holiday weekend, as they have with previous holidays, because it's the first one the U.S. has had with 50% of adults vaccinated.
Walensky has previously raised concerns that travel could lead to surges in new COVID-19 cases as more people congregate in airports or other areas, but the CDC says fully vaccinated Americans can safely resume activities like travel and socializing as long as they follow the rules set by state and local health authorities or businesses. The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 cases hit the lowest level in nearly a year this week, the seven-day average of new cases declined 23% this week compared to the previous period, according to CDC data.
More than 37 million people are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend, more than double the number that traveled last year, according to travel industry surveys.
Unvaccinated Americans or families traveling with unvaccinated children are asked to continue following CDC guidance, including refraining from travel or choosing safer travel options like limiting contact to members of your household or people who are fully vaccinated, taking shorter road trips or flights with fewer stops and staying in a rental home or cabin instead of a hotel.
All travelers are still required to wear masks on airplanes, buses and trains.