(In paragraph 8, adds dropped word)
By Peter Szekely
NEW YORK, May 31 (Reuters) - With half the country at least partially protected against the coronavirus, Americans fled their pandemic doldrums over the three-day holiday weekend that traditionally unleashes the country's pent-up wanderlust at the doorstep of summer.
But the Memorial Day holiday on Monday is also a solemn occasion for remembering the country's war dead, and many of this year's military ceremonies are still being held virtually.
The biggest commemoration, the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington which was presented all online last year as the virus raged, is returning somewhat back to normal this year with a mix of in-person and virtual events, organizers said.
Instead of a traditional parade on Constitution Avenue before 100,000 spectators, the march was filmed on May 3 on the National Mall with no onlookers and will be blended with other taped performers in a special television program.
"We're fully expecting to be returning to normal next year," said Kenny Cunningham, a spokesman for the American Veterans Center.
New York City's Staten Island borough was set to have one of the country's relatively few live-and-in-person parades on Monday with floats and marching bands.
Also, on Memorial Day, whose origins date back to the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, which ended in 1865, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took part in a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Duty, honor, country - they lived for it, they died for it. And we, as a nation, are eternally grateful," Biden told the crowd, including families gathered at the site to remember loved ones who lost their lives in military service.
TRAVEL EXPECTED UP 60%
A year after Memorial Day weekend travel was depressed by fears of the spreading COVID-19 virus, it is forecast to jump by 60%, with 37 million people expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, AAA Travel said.
The 2021 total, which is still 13% below 2019, includes 34.4 million people traveling by car, the AAA said.
One of them is Patty Doxsey, 63, of Red Hook, New York, who was set to take a 10-hour drive with her husband on Monday for a week-long camping stay at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee in hopes of seeing a synchronous firefly light show.
The couple, both vaccinated, had planned to go last year until the pandemic scotched their trip, she said.
"I am so excited," said Doxsey, a reporter for the Daily Freeman in Kingston. "It has been a long, long year, and we like to travel."
By Sunday, 50.5% of Americans had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases has plummeted from a seven-day average of more than 250,000 a day in early January to about 18,900 on Saturday, the lowest number since the ascent of the pandemic in March 2020, the CDC said.
Air travel is also making a comeback as nearly 1.96 million people passed through U.S. airports on Friday, the most since March 7, 2020, according to Transportation Security Administration data.
Top Memorial Day travel destinations this year are Las Vegas and Orlando, AAA said.
The State Department is strongly discouraging foreign travel, including to Mexico and Canada, having issued "Do Not Travel" advisories for more than 150 countries, mostly because of high rates of COVID-19. (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Diane Craft and David Gregorio)
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