As New Yorkers get ready to kick the door closed on 2021, crowds will return to Times Square on Friday for the annual ball drop — despite the surge in Covid-19 cases in New York City and across the country.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that although New Year’s Eve celebrations would be scaled back somewhat this year, the ball drop would go on. Last year, only a small number of frontline workers and their families were allowed to attend.
“We want to show that we’re moving forward and we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this,” Mr. de Blasio said on the “Today” show Thursday, emphasizing the event’s vaccination policy. “It’s really important to not give up in the face of this.”
Although the public will be welcome once more to Times Square, revelers may want to think twice about watching the ball drop in person this year.
New York City’s seven-day average test positivity rate was about 15 percent on Tuesday, according to the state. The event will also draw people from places around the country and the world with varying rates of Covid cases and vaccination.
“Even with limited attendance, vaccination and masking requirements, gathering in Times Square will not be without risk,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, said in an email.
City officials such as Mark Levine, the incoming Manhattan borough president, have called for celebrations to be halted to prevent the virus from spreading further.
“I think we need to do more to slow this,” said Mr. Levine, who is recovering from a second bout of Covid-19 despite being vaccinated and boosted. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we should have an in-person crowd in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”
The ball drop isn’t the only event happening in Times Square that night. Eric Adams, the mayor-elect of New York City, announced that he would be sworn in during the New Year’s celebration, taking the oath of office shortly after midnight on Saturday.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to watch the New Year’s Eve events.
What time does the celebration start?
The celebrations will kick off at 6 p.m. in Times Square. Visitors won’t be allowed into the viewing areas until 3 p.m., hours later than in past years.
Who’s performing in Times Square?
Several musical acts are slated to perform, including KT Tunstall, Karol G and Journey.
There will also be a presentation from the Sino-American Friendship Association, a nonprofit group, featuring a Chinese martial arts showcase and a dance performance.
The rapper LL Cool J was scheduled to perform, but he dropped out Wednesday after announcing he had tested positive for Covid. The singer Chloe Bailey also canceled on Wednesday, though she did not explain why.
And last week, Phish, which typically performs on New Year’s Eve blocks away from Times Square at Madison Square Garden, postponed all of its upcoming in-person shows to April. Its New Year’s Eve show will be livestreamed for free starting at 8:30 p.m. on the band’s YouTube channel and website.
How can I watch the ball drop from home?
Several TV networks will be hosting live New Year’s Eve specials from Times Square.
Ryan Seacrest will anchor ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” while Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will kick off CNN’s event.
On NBC, Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager will run coverage in New York until 10 p.m. After that, the singer Miley Cyrus and the “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson will take over from Miami.
Fox canceled its live special in Times Square last week over Covid safety concerns and have not yet announced what programming will take its place.
Each show will also broadcast musical performances from around the country, such as Katy Perry in Las Vegas on CNN, Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker in Los Angeles on ABC and Saweetie in Miami on NBC.
You can also watch the festivities via livestream from the Times Square Alliance, or catch them on streaming services like Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV or Peacock.
How can I watch it in person?
If you’re ready for the cold, crowds and possible Covid exposure, you can watch the ball drop for free in Times Square. Entry points will be set up at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue between 38th and 56th Streets.
The closest subway stop to the action is, of course, Times Square-42nd Street. But given how crowded that station gets on New Year’s Eve, it might be a better idea to get off at a nearby station and walk.
There are also several New Year’s Eve parties being held by businesses across the city, including ball drop watch parties at AMC Empire Theater on 42nd Street and Bar 54 on 45th Street.
What Covid safety precautions are being taken?
All attendees over the age of 5 must show proof of full vaccination to enter. Anyone under 5 must be accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult. The crowd will be limited to 15,000 people in designated viewing pens, and everyone will be required to wear a mask.
But some doctors and epidemiologists still cautioned against attending the ball drop in person this year, citing the nationwide spike in Covid cases caused by the Omicron variant and the added risk created by revelers traveling domestically and internationally.
“Given the increase in Covid cases due to Omicron, I would not go to Times Square to watch the ball drop,” said Dr. Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist at New York University.
There’s no way to control the crowds flooding into the subway, the streets and the bars and restaurants nearby, she said, which increases the possibility of spreading the virus.
Those who haven’t had a booster shot and who received their second vaccine dose more than six months ago could also be less protected, she added.
People who decide to watch the ball drop in person should keep their masks on the entire time and get tested three to four days after, she said, and they should continue wearing masks around others until their test results come back.
But the safest thing to do this year, epidemiologists said, would be to ring in the New Year without a crowd.
“While disappointing to many, it is wise to forgo in-person large New Year Eve celebratory events this year,” Dr. El-Sadr said.
Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.