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TSA Confident Start Of Federal COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Will Not Impact Staffing During Thanksgiving Travel Period

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The number of people traveling through U.S. airports this weekend has already reached levels not seen since before the pandemic.

And with a vaccine mandate for federal workers starting Monday, there's concern the Transportation Security Administration could struggle to stay fully staffed for the holiday travel rush, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported.

The TSA said Sunday it does not anticipate the mandate will impact the agency's operations as it has been preparing for this for months.

"I don't think they should expect chaos. We work very closely with the airlines, with the airports. We have travel projections for the coming week and we're very confident this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days," Administrator David Pekoske said.

A spokesperson would not give Rozner a figure and would only say the compliance rate "is very high."

In October, CBS2 was told that 60% of workers got at least one shot, but now we're being told it's higher but just not by how much.

AAA predicts Thanksgiving travel, overall, will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, with more than 53 million Americans expected to be on the move for the holiday. That's a 13% increase from last year.

Remember, travel restrictions were also recently lifted for fully vaccinated travelers from more than 30 countries.

Nationwide, new COVID-19 cases are up nearly 54% in the last month. Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are among the hardest-hit states.

Pekoske was asked about how the agency will deal with employees not vaccinated come Monday.

"We will go through a progressive discipline process with our employees who have not been vaccinated. But we have a lot of employees who have asked for either medical or religious exemptions as well, so we'll go through the process of looking at each one of those individual and make a determination in the next several weeks. So, yes, there is the potential if you do not have an approved exemption and you are not vaccinated that you will lose your job."

The TSA said it anticipates the Sunday after Thanksgiving will likely see the highest numbers of air travelers with people returning home.

The agency set a new record for the year on Friday when agents screened more than 2 million passengers, CBS2's Christina Fan reported Sunday.

Families that missed getting together for the holidays in 2020 are making up for lost time.

"We're all vaccinated. We have our cards," one traveler said.

Like millions of other Americans hitting the skies and roads, the Kaplan family is excited to travel again.

CBS2's Christina Fan contributed to this report.

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