The Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration next week will be scaled back, and attendees will have to wear masks, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
There will be fewer people in viewing areas to allow for some social distancing. Usually, there are 58,000 people allowed in viewing areas, the mayor’s office said. This year, there will be just about 15,000 people allowed.
Visitors will not be allowed in until 3 p.m., which is much later than previous years.
The new requirements are in addition to a vaccination requirement that was already in place for almost all attendees over the age of 5.
“There is a lot to celebrate and these additional safety measures will keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year,” de Blasio said in a statement.
The announcement came as New York City has seen rising Covid cases and positivity rates largely attributed to the omicron variant. Omicron is highly transmissible but studies have shown it is less severe than other variants.
On Dec. 19, the city reported a 15% Covid test positivity rate, a five-percentage point increase from just four days before. The World Health Organization estimates that omicron cases double every 1.5 to three days in places with high rates of community transmission.
“We know that vaccination is the key and we know boosters are particularly effective against omicron. Our health care leaders have been abundantly clear about that,” the mayor told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
Previously, the Times Square Alliance, the group in charge of organizing the New Year’s Eve ball drop and celebration, said it would require proof of full vaccination for almost all attendees over the age of 5. At the end of 2020, before vaccinations were widely available, the group hosted a scaled-down ball drop, with social distancing and masking for a significantly smaller audience than normal.
At his news conference Wednesday, de Blasio told reporters he expects omicron will peak in the city soon, but people will have to take extra precautions in the meantime to keep everyone safe.
“We focus, obviously, every day on the Covid crisis, on the challenge of omicron and how we overcome it, and I’m very confident the city will overcome it. In fact, it looks like it’s going to be a very brief period – intense and challenging – but very brief, and we have a lot of tools to fight back,” de Blasio said.
The city is ramping up testing and vaccinations as the city heads into the holidays. On Christmas Eve, the city will hand out thousands of at-home rapid tests so that people can ensure they’re not infected before congregating for Christmas.
Additionally, the city is offering a free $100 to every one who gets their Covid booster shot at a city-run site before Dec. 31.