Some cautious, many fed up, Americans prepare to ring in the New Year

by Reuters
Friday, 31 December 2021 15:28 GMT

(Adds hyperlink in paragraph 8)

By Brad Brooks

Dec 31 (Reuters) - Dana Fenner's hands were full of New Year's Eve hats and horns as she perused an aisle at a Party City store in Texas, not hesitating for a second when asked about her hopes for 2022.

"Normalcy. I want everything to get back to normal," Fenner said, as she shopped for the low-key, homespun festivities that she, her husband and three children planned on Friday.

Pandemic-weary Americans shared Fenner's desire as they prepared to send off 2021 amid a sharp increase in coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads https://www.reuters.com/world/us/experts-warn-omicron-blizzard-disrupt-us-next-month-2021-12-30 and pushes the U.S. to record case levels.

In some spots, including Los Angeles, the latest virus wave shattered official New Year's Eve bash plans. But New York and several other cities say the party will go on, even if in a curtailed fashion.

New York City's bash - the biggest and most iconic in the United States - will once again be carried out in a scaled-down way https://www.reuters.com/world/us/new-york-city-scale-down-new-years-eve-celebrations-times-square-2021-12-23, city officials said. But it will be far larger than a year ago when only a few dozen people https://www.reuters.com/world/us/after-year-like-no-other-new-yorks-times-square-empties-out-new-years-eve-2020-12-31 were invited to watch the ball drop in Times Square.

For decades, partygoers have filled the streets around Times Square on New Year's Eve, standing for hours in the cold waiting to see a glittering crystal ball glide down a pole mounted atop a building in the year's final seconds. When the ball reaches the bottom, the crowds erupt in hugs, kisses and good cheer.

About 15,000 people who show proof of full vaccination will be allowed inside a fenced area to witness the ball drop this year - about a fourth of a pre-pandemic year.

But it's still a world away from where the city was a year ago, said Paul Warshaw, a co-founder of balldrop.com https://www.balldrop.com, who has spent two decades producing parties largely focused on New Year's Eve celebrations.

After having no events last year, Warshaw said that he's producing about 40 events catering to upward of 25,000 people on Friday in New York. That's in line with pre-pandemic levels.

"There is a good amount of excitement, though people are proceeding with caution," Warshaw said, stressing that all his indoor events would adhere to strict proof-of-vaccination and other safety policies.

Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci urged people to avoid large gatherings to celebrate the arrival of 2022.

Speaking on CNN this week, Fauci told people to stay away from big parties, saying "there will be other years to do that, but not this year."

Fauci said family gatherings of people who are vaccinated and had received the booster shot were safe.

Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said stubbornly low levels of vaccine coverage in the U.S., which stand at about 63% fully vaccinated, make this New Year's Eve far more dangerous than it should have to be.

"It's one of the coldest times of the year, so that means the celebrations are happening inside," he said. "And it's those indoor celebrations that we worry about, especially those mixing generations."

Adding to the worry, Beyrer said, are the frustratingly inadequate levels of testing available for people who want to take one to ensure parties they host or attend are as safe as possible.

Despite a livelier atmosphere this year as compared to a year ago, the realities of the Omicron wave of cases has hit some cities and high-level names hard.

Los Angeles earlier this month reversed plans for an outdoor countdown party in Grand Park, opting to stream the celebration for the second year in a row.

Rapper LL Cool J on Wednesday said he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to step down as a headliner on ABC's annual ball drop show, "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest." And TMZ reported this week that Sean "Diddy" Combs had canceled his star-studded bash in Miami, telling 500 invitees that coronavirus made it an untenable party for the second straight year. (Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas Editing by Diane Craft)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.