Times Square New Year's Eve Celebration Happening for Now, NYC Watching COVID Spread

The New Year's Eve celebration in New York City's Times Square is still scheduled to take place, but officials said they're watching the spread of COVID-19 very carefully amid an increase in infections.

The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that for now, the event will continue as planned, but only for fully vaccinated people.

"Because it is an event where people are fully vaccinated and all outdoors, right now that's something we're going forward with," he said, NBC News reported.

However, the city would be watching "very carefully" whether to continue with the event or cancel it because of a rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variant. The celebration was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

"It's still more than two weeks away. And if at any point we need to alter the plan, we will," de Blasio said.

The city has been grappling with a spike in COVID-19 infections. In some cases, people stand in lines stretching around the block just to get tested.

Despite the rise in cases and the new Omicron variant, people are still hopeful for a semi-normal holiday season.

"This year, more than ever, everyone needed a holiday," said John McNulty, owner of Thief bar in Brooklyn.

New Year's Eve, Time Square, 2021
The New Year's Eve celebration in New York City's Times Square is still scheduled to take place, but officials said they're watching the spread of COVID-19 very carefully amid an increase in infections. Above, a person throws confetti in the air during the 2021 New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square on December 31, 2020, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

This year's holiday season was supposed to be a do-over for last year's subdued celebrations. Instead it's turning into a redux of restrictions, cancellations and rising angst over the never-ending pandemic.

As Christmas and New Year's approach, a pall lingers over the season. Infections are soaring around the world, and the quickly spreading omicron variant has triggered new restrictions on travel and public gatherings reminiscent of the dark days of 2020.

The accelerating cancellations seem "to have thrown us back into that sort of zombie world of the first week of March of the pandemic last year," said Jonathan Neame, the chief executive of Shepherd Neame, Britain's oldest brewery and chain of pubs.

Multiple Broadway shows, including "Hamilton," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," called off performances in recent days because of virus cases in their all-vaccinated casts and crews. California and New York brought back indoor mask mandates.

In Philadelphia, Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole urged residents not to go to indoor holiday parties, calling them "just too dangerous." She ruefully advised against even getting together with other households for Christmas.

"It's hard, and it feels impossible, and it feels unfair," she acknowledged, but "I have to say it."

Many Americans have spent nearly two years on an emotional seesaw as the pandemic worsened and waned in cycles and the hoped-for return to normal was repeatedly pushed back. A recent poll by MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of American adults said the pandemic made it harder to maintain their mental health.

"I think for a large number of people, there was this hopefulness that this holiday season was going to be different. So if you went in with that expectation, and you weren't adjusting it over the last couple of months, I think you're going to be all the more disappointed," said Dr. Vaile Wright, a clinical psychologist who works for the American Psychological Association.

Her advice? "Try to get to a place where the expectation is that this is going to continue on for a while, and if you're feeling stuck, try to find ways to make your life meaningful right now."

The world has been on edge over the omicron variant, which could become the dominant strain of coronavirus in weeks in many nations. Adding to that anxiety is the fact that hospitals in many U.S. states are already slammed with patients infected with the delta variant. The military and the National Guard have been enlisted to help at hospitals.

In Arizona, one county voted this week to spend $65,000 on a mobile morgue because virus deaths have far exceeded capacity. A hospital in Akron, Ohio, brought in a trailer to more than triple its morgue space, Cleveland television station WKYC reported.

Some people are striving to keep fears in check.

Yvonne Sidella, a "50-something" from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, views the steep rise in cases and the looming threat of omicron with equanimity. She does not plan to let it alter holiday plans that include spending time with her elderly parents, her four children and her eight grandchildren.

"I'm not going to let this blow my spirit," said Sidella, a manufacturing supervisor. "I'm going to continue to live my life. I'm not going to let this here thing have me afraid to go places or to do things or to touch people."

After last winter's brutal COVID-19 surge forced him to skip his usual Christmas trip home to visit family and friends in the Midwest, Don Carlson booked plane tickets in September. The college administrator in San Francisco figured with vaccinations available and a lower number of infections, the trip to Minneapolis and Nebraska would be fine.

Soon after, hospitals started filing up in the Midwest. Then came the discovery of the Omicron variant.

Carlson, 59, couldn't in good conscience make the trip, so he canceled. He will stay in Northern California and get together with a few vaccinated friends for small dinners around the holiday. He plans to do Zoom calls with the friends and relatives he would have visited.

"It's disappointing, but what would be far more disappointing is spreading it to an elderly person in your family because you went through airports," Carlson said. "I think it's just prudent to stay put."

Dakota LeRoy, a 25-year-old product designer in Manhattan who is fully vaccinated, had reasoned that it would be safe to go to a Christmas-themed dive bar to celebrate a new job last week. But on Wednesday, she found she was infected with COVID-19, after a scratchy throat and some sniffles prompted her to get tested before a holiday visit with her boyfriend's family in Boston.

"Everyone I know is either positive or has been in direct contact with somebody who is," she said.

April Burns, a bill collector for New York City, said things are far from being back to normal. But she considers the worst to be over.

"Last year, everybody was shut down. At least now, things are open, you know. You can get out more, and you still get to see people," said Burns, who is unvaccinated and was standing in line Thursday near Wall Street to comply with city rules that require her to be tested weekly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVDI-19 Testing New York
A line stretches down the block as people wait in line to be tested for COVID-19 in New York City on December 16, 2021. Lines stretch around the block for testing sites, refrigerated morgue trucks are being ordered, infections are soaring so much that they resemble a straight line and not a curve, European countries are imposing new travel restrictions. Brooke Lansdale/AP Photo