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Travelers say Memorial Day weekend symbolizes freedom they haven't had in last year

According to officials at Jacksonville International Airport, about 9,000 people flew out of JIA Friday, the most in more than a year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nearly half of Americans have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and with most states opening back up, many people said this holiday weekend feels like a return to normal.

"It feels good and I'm so excited because the past year was a difficult year for everyone," said Virginia Lampkin Smith, who is vacationing in Jacksonville Beach with her family.

It's Smith's first vacation with her family in more than a year. Smith is a nurse.

"We were excited. We left Georgia last night and got here about 12:30, so we were ready," she said. “Now to be able to go out and be with friends again, it’s really a good time."

Smith's family and others said they feel like Memorial Day weekend this year symbolizes almost a return to normal.

"I'm just making sure my queen has an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend," Sirdarius Miller said at the airport Friday.

Miller and his wife, Tinnet Miller, were flying to Cancun Friday. It's their first trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic too.

"It's a little nerve wracking still because there's still that little bit of possibility (of getting COVID-19)," he said.

Friday alone, airport officials said about 9,000 people will fly out of Jacksonville International Airport. That makes it the busiest travel day the airport has seen in more than a year. Airport officials say if you're flying, allow plenty of time to check bags and get through security.

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Friday of Memorial Day Weekend 2020, 1,733 people flew out of JAX, airport officials said.

"This is a moment where we can relax a little bit, but personally, for me, I’m going to still be cautious but I’m going to enjoy every moment," said Renee Burgess, who is traveling to California.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's a good idea to still be cautious. The CDC's director said if you're not vaccinated, continue to take normal precautions, including wearing a mask. 

If you are vaccinated, the director said you can enjoy a normal holiday weekend without masks. 

If you're with a smaller group of people, the CDC says you can safely gather with unmasked children and vaccinated unmasked adults.

Masks are still required at airports, on planes and on public transportation for everyone, vaccinated or not.