New York City will welcome crowds back to Times Square this New Year’s Eve, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, as long as they provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. After a pared-down celebration last year, the longtime tradition of the ball drop at midnight will return to the city “at full strength,” he said.
“We want to welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks, but everyone needs to be vaccinated,” de Blasio said during a news conference. “Join the crowd, join the joy, join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100% back.”
Attendees who are unable to provide proof of vaccination because of a disability will have to show that they received a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of the event, and children younger than 5 will have to be accompanied by someone with proof of vaccination.
The announcement comes as de Blasio is preparing for his successor, Eric Adams, to take over as the next mayor of New York City, and the ball drop will coincide with de Blasio’s final day in office. That will leave any fallout from the event in the hands of Adams, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 1, 2022.
Several public health experts have warned that with the constantly changing nature of the coronavirus, it is difficult to predict where the city might be in terms of cases by the end of the year.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology for the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. “We have to assume there will be people with COVID mixing among the revelers outdoors.”
Nor is the risk limited to Times Square. Attendees will also have to consider what happens on the way to the ball drop, with people going in and out of nearby bars and restaurants to eat, get warm and use the restroom.
And with some major restrictions against international travelers recently eased by the United States, the ball drop is likely to attract partygoers from around the country and the world, drawing together people from areas of both lower and higher rates of the virus.
Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University, said she would still urge attendees to exercise caution when deciding whether to go.
“I understand that people are so over this pandemic, and people are getting vaccinated and our vaccination rates are high,” Ompad said. “But I still think it is important to be cautious.”
Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, expressed similar concerns: “I would say, ‘I’ll wait for another year and choose to watch it from home.’”
Other major cities around the world have nixed their New Year’s Eve celebrations. In October, London’s mayor said that the city’s end-of-year fireworks display would be canceled and replaced with a different kind of celebration, while Amsterdam canceled its celebrations this week in response to a surge in cases.
Munich has also canceled its celebrated Christmas market, which was set to be held from next Monday through Christmas Eve. “The dramatic situation in our hospitals and the exponentially increasing infection figures leave me no other choice,” the city’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, told reporters Tuesday.