HONOLULU (KHON2) — COVID cases are continuing to increase across the U.S. mainland as the 2021 holiday season approaches.

States in the southwest and midwest are starting to see a rise in COVID-19 cases as many people get ready to travel for Thanksgiving. Throughout the pandemic, Hawaii residents have unknowingly brought the virus home with them after traveling.

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According to the State’s health data, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 10, 2021, there have been 475 travel-related coronavirus cases counted from residents; 85 cases linked to travel by non-residents — which is about 11% of all cases since Oct. 1. The vast majority of cases have been linked to community spread.

“If you have yet to get fully vaccinated, you can be fully vaccinated with your initial series before you travel; that is fantastic and that’s probably the best way that you can protect you and your family,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said on Friday, Nov. 12, during a media availability regarding breakthrough infections and holiday travel.

The Department of Health’s (DOH) most recent cluster report showed the state investigated a cluster tied to a family who vacationed at a California theme park in October. The state said everyone who was eligible for vaccination was vaccinated. When they returned home, 11 people in their group tested positive — six were breakthrough infections and three traveled while symptomatic. No one in the group was hospitalized.

The DOH also reported that the theme park did not require social distancing and face masks were optional for guests while outside.

Additionally, the DOH said airports and destinations with crowding and lack of mask-use can increase the risk of COVID transmission. The DOH added it is much safer to gather with family during the 2021 holidays but to keep preventative mitigation strategies in place.

“We’re still in a space where we do need to exercise some caution over the holidays. Keep your gatherings on the small side, especially if not everyone can be vaccinated at that gathering to still implement some of those other mitigation layers, like gathering outside or making sure that you find ways to space out the party.”

Dr. Sarah Kemble, State Epidemiologist

Kauai County currently has the highest test positivity rate in the state, and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said it is because people are getting tested — which is good.

“And that’s really what we like to see is that people have a general sense of concern for other people,” Kawakami added.

He said residents are utilizing free testing sites when returning home from vacation.

“After you come back home, maybe three to five days later, go to our free testing clinic and just go get a test for your own peace of mind, and then for everybody else’s peace of mind as well,” Kawakami continued.

Get more coronavirus news: COVID vaccines and boosters

The DOH reminds people not to travel if they are sick and to keep basic mitigation measures in place — social distancing and wearing a mask. The CDC also recommends people delay travel until they are fully vaccinated and most airlines have waived change fees as well.