While the crystal-encrusted New Year’s Eve ball will drop in Times Square at midnight on 31 December, its descent will diverge from tradition: this sparkling, 12-foot sphere will be greeted by empty streets due to Covid-19, and not hundreds of thousands of revelers.
New York City authorities have announced that Times Square will not be open to the public on New Year’s Eve. The party and live performances will go on, albeit virtually: Those wishing to attend can stream online, or watch on television.
This dramatic shift – New Year’s Eve gatherings have taken place at the so-called Crossroads of the World since 1904 – is not unique to Manhattan.
US cities are changing how they ring in 2021 as Covid-19 cases and deaths surge nationwide. The most recent Johns Hopkins University data reports 19,448,626 US cases and 336,947 deaths.
The cancelation of in-person events could be key in preventing disease, given that millions have recently flouted warnings against holiday travel and social gatherings. Numerous mass get-togethers could make things even worse.
“The safest way to celebrate the new year is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you or virtually with friends and family. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.
The annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show on Las Vegas’ famed strip was canceled, and less of this area will be closed to traffic than in years past. Downtown, people who want to mill about the Fremont Street Experience entertainment area may do so – after paying for a $25 “security-fee” wristband – but there won’t be live music, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Some private event organizers have adapted their soirees to meet social-distancing guidelines. One venue in New Jersey is hosting an event featuring a DJ and other performances in a drive in-streaming format, according to NJ.com.
At the same time, there are numerous examples of private people and businesses trying to flout restrictions. Word of planned New Year’s Eve parties in Los Angeles spurred immense backlash as the area has been devastated by Covid-19. La Scala, an Italian restaurant in the upscale LA area of Beverly Hills, was advertising an indoor dinner for New Year’s Eve.
The fine-dining eatery recently left invitations in take-out bags that stated, “Welcome back to the 20’s Prohibition.” The missive stressed that it would host people inside, also saying, “Please keep this discreet, but tell all your friends.”
The restaurant later said in an Instagram post that it was attempting to “add some levity” and was accepting reservations for outdoor dining. LA residents have brought attention to other secretive in-person events and pointed out businesses that publicly ignore public health rules.
“It’s horrifying and we are frightened,” said Linda Bessin, a Burbank resident who told city leaders about a burger restaurant that reopened to protest health mandates. “While many of us are sympathetic to the survival of our local businesses and are doing our best to support restaurants, having people come in and not wear a mask and not social distance, and having them come from all over LA county to Burbank, it’s terrifying.”
Dr Robert Kim-Farley, a medical epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, previously told the Guardian that attending an event in LA this week would be very dangerous.
“We are in a perfect storm of exposure occurring that can amplify the number of cases over the New Year’s Eve celebrations … The risks are just so much higher,” Kim-Farley said.
Elsewhere, others appear poised to make the most of less restrictive rules. There are numerous listings for parties across the US. Some hotel-based events are even advertising buffets.
Associated Press contributed to this report.