New York City welcomed the new year – and well into 2021 – as confetti and cheers spread across Times Square as a New Year’s Eve tradition returned to a city besieged by a global pandemic.
The new year marched across the globe, time zone by time zone, and thousands of New Year’s parties stood shoulder to shoulder in a slight chill to watch a 6-ton ball, lined with nearly 2,700 Waterford crystals, descend over a crowd of about 15,000 spectators – far fewer than the many tens of thousands of partygoers who normally walks down the world-famous square to bask in the light and noise from the nation’s party tent on New Year’s Eve.
It did so when a troubled nation tried to create optimism that the worst days of the pandemic are now behind it – even as public health officials on Friday warned of unrestrained celebrations amid rising COVID-19 infections from the omicron variant.
Last year’s ball drop was closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Although the crowds were smaller, the crowd nonetheless stretched to blocks to soak in the celebration, and many traveled far and wide to attend. Confetti lit by electronic billboards swirling in a light breeze on a mild winter night in New York City.
Mary Gonzalez stood a few feet behind a crowd and wanted to keep her distance from anyone who inadvertently carried the virus.
“I’m glad 2021 is over because it caused a lot of problems for everyone,” said Gonzalez, who was visiting from Mexico City and wanted to embrace an American tradition. “We hope 2022 will be much better than this year.”
The annual ball game took place as the clock ticked into midnight and heralded the new year, an event usually celebrated with the unplugging of Champagne, the clink of pints, happy embraces and renewed hope for better times ahead.
Times Square is often referred to as the world’s crossroads, and city officials insisted on holding the party on New Year’s Eve to demonstrate the city’s resilience even in the midst of a resurgence of coronavirus.
But 2022 begins, just as the year before began – with the pandemic blurring an already uncertain future.
Doubts swirled about whether the city would have to cancel this year’s bash, as the city posted a record number of COVID-19 cases in the days leading up to it, even as some cities like Atlanta had decided to cancel their own celebrations.
COVID-19 cases in the United States have rose to their highest level ever of over 265,000 a day on average. New York City reported a record number of new confirmed cases – nearly 44,000 – on Wednesday and a similar number on Thursday, according to New York State figures.
Officials demanded that those who attended the show wear masks and show evidence of vaccination. Organizers had initially hoped that more than 50,000 partygoers would be able to attend, but plans were dramatically reduced due to widespread infections.
Rap artist and actor LL Cool J was to be among the performers who took the stage in Times Square on Friday night, but announced he would withdraw from the event because he had tested positive for COVID-19.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who resigned to oversee the nation’s most populous city at midnight, said the Times Square festivities would “show the world that New York City is fighting us through this.”
New York City’s incoming mayor, Eric Adams, is scheduled to take his oath in Times Square shortly after the ball falls. He made a brief appearance earlier on the main stage to confirm the city’s resilience.
“It’s just amazing when New York shows the whole country how we’re coming back,” he said. “We showed the globe what we are made of. We are incredible. This is an incredible city, and believe me, we are ready for a big comeback because this is New York.”
The hopeful feeling was shared by ordinary people.
“I look back and I see it as a kind of stressful year, but it was not a terrible year,” said Lynn Cafachio, who defied the crowds for attending the festivities with her husband Pete.
She was a tour guide in New York City and was unemployed during a period when the economy was closed and tourism came to a standstill.
“We are happy here that 2021 is soon over,” she said, “but really positive about next year.”
Although the crowds were significantly smaller, people gathered across block after block to watch the ball fall.
Nursing student Ashley Ochoa and her boyfriend, Jose Avelar, traveled from the central valley of California specifically to be in Times Square.
“COVID held a lot of things back for me,” Ochoa said, “but I mean, I’m here today, so that’s what I’m grateful for.”