New York City will reduce New Years Eve celebration to Times Square as the Omicron variant spreads, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday, the same day New York State reported its highest number of daily coronavirus cases ever recorded.
The mayor added that authorities are still monitoring the situation and may take additional precautions in the coming days, if necessary.
From now on, participants will need to show full proof of vaccination and wear masks. Fewer people – 15,000, instead of the usual 58,000 – will be allowed in designated viewing areas, to make social distancing more possible. Visitors will not be allowed to enter until approximately 3 p.m., later than in previous years.
The number of cases reported in the city over the past week is the highest since the start of the pandemic, although testing was severely limited in its early stages.
Nearly 39,000 new cases were reported statewide on Thursday, about 10,000 more than Wednesday, with nearly 23,000 of them in New York. More than 60% of cases reported by New York state to the GISAID genetic tracking database in the past two weeks were of the Omicron variant, according to the governor’s office.
The city’s average seven-day test positivity rate was 11% on Tuesday, and there were hours of waiting for testing at many sites in the city.
In addition, on Thursday, the group Phish, who regularly perform New Years Eve concerts at Madison Square Garden, postponed their next series of shows, including a three-set performance originally scheduled for New Years Eve.
Shortly before making the Times Square announcement, at an event unrelated to Park Slope, Mr de Blasio insisted that the increase in virus cases would soon abate and that closures no were not necessary. He said the city’s strategy of encouraging vaccines and boosters and implementing strict vaccine mandates would be enough.
“It’s going to be a tough few weeks, but it will only be a few weeks,” he said, adding, “We’re not backing down. We’re going to work our way through this.
Health experts were divided over the New Year’s Eve decision. Denis Nash, professor of epidemiology at the CUNY School of Public Health, said he didn’t think it was a good idea to hold the event.
âWe’re in the middle of a pandemic with a strong wave of a new variant whose risk we still really understand, and I don’t think we want to let it escalate,â he said.
He added that he was concerned that people visiting New York from other states and countries could pick up the variant and take it home.
âAs New York is a global city and connected to everywhere, we have to think about these places as well,â said Dr Nash.
But Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, said he was “really happy” that the mayor chose not to cancel, noting the vaccine’s mandate and adding that the virus does not usually spread. not effectively outdoors.
âThe whole country is watching this, so I think psychologically it’s very important for the country to feel that we can do these things again and we can do them safely,â Dr Jha said.
The city said Thursday that spectators over the age of 5 must have received both doses, if any, of an FDA or World Health Organization-approved vaccine at least 14 days before Dec.31.
The ball drop will take place on Mr de Blasio’s last day in office, marking the end of his eight-year term. Mayor-elect Eric Adams said in a statement Thursday that Mr de Blasio “has made the right decision to take precautionary measures as we learn to live with Covid and combat the Omicron variant.”
Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, said the number of 15,000 referred specifically to people who would be allowed to look at the pens. The enclosures will be reduced in number and will only be filled to about 25% of their capacity, he said.
More people generally watch the ball fall from the surrounding area, including hotels, restaurants and office buildings.
âWe are really delighted to welcome the revelers again,â he said. “Safety is our priority and we believe that an outdoor event with fully vaccinated, masked people in a less dense environment is about as safe as it gets.”
Grace Ashford contributed reports.