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Health experts urge caution ahead of New Year’s Eve festivities as COVID-19 surge intensifies


(NEW YORK) — If you were planning to ring in 2022 with a couple dozen of your friends this New Year’s Eve, many officials and health experts are warning against it.

“Omicron and delta are coming to your party,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned at a press conference Monday. “You need to think twice about how many people will be gathered together.”

From London to Tokyo to Paris and Athens, the latest coronavirus surge has already spoiled many annual festivities across the globe.

This week, San Francisco officials canceled their annual celebration, citing concerns over the nation’s latest COVID-19 surge.

“This rise in cases will impact us in a number of ways—including with staffing levels, which led us to make the tough but right decision to cancel New Year’s Eve fireworks. Despite these challenges, we are focused on providing the necessary services to take care of our City,” Mayor London Breed tweeted.

And in Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the decision to cancel the city’s Peach Drop on Tuesday, following advice from public health professionals.

Nationwide, the U.S. is facing its worst surge on record, with more Americans testing positive for the virus every day than at any other point in the pandemic.

Federal data shows that as of Tuesday, the U.S. is reporting an average of 277,000 new cases a day, shattering the nation’s previous record average of 250,000 cases reported a day, set last January. In the last week, the U.S. has reported nearly 1.9 million new cases.

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are also steadily rising. More than 90,000 Americans are hospitalized with the virus — a total that has doubled since early November.

Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, have been vocal about their concerns over the nation’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, fearing such events will accelerate viral spread.

“Should you change or cancel your plans? If your plans are to go to a 40 to 50 person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing, and wishing each other a Happy New Year, I would strongly recommend that this year, we do not do that,” Fauci said during a press briefing on Thursday.

Many cities move forward with celebrations, despite ongoing surge

Despite the nation’s record-breaking surge, many cities are still opting to move forward with plans.

Even as New York reported its highest coronavirus cases on record Thursday, with more than 74,000 residents testing positive, thousands of revelers in New York City’s Times Square will welcome the new year with the famous ball drop.

“We want to show that we are moving forward, and we want to show the world that New York City is fighting our way through this,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told NBC Thursday. “It’s really important to not give up in the face of this.”

According to city officials, on average, 58,000 people flock to the annual celebration. However, this year, the festivities will be limited to 15,000 people. The city said it will also require proof of vaccination and attendees will be required to wear masks.

Despite these precautions, Mike Levine, chairman of the New York City Council’s Health Committee, has called for the event to be canceled, tweeting on Wednesday that he “100%” agreed that the city shouldn’t hold its celebration.

However, de Blasio said that there are no plans to cancel the event.

In Nevada, which is now reporting its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a year, an estimated 300,000 people are expected to attend a New Year’s Eve fireworks show on the Las Vegas Strip.

“We encourage everyone to look out for one another, take personal responsibility and proactively take actions to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft.

Although Chicago will move forward with its annual New Year’s Eve bash, officials are urging prudence, asking residents to stay home if they feel unwell.

“If you think it’s the cold, if you think it’s the flu, it’s probably COVID,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “We need you to stay home.”

With more than 5,300 people hospitalized across the state, Illinois is now averaging more cases than at any other point in the pandemic.

“I’m not going to be the mom and tell people what they should and shouldn’t do, but I know what I’m going to do,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “I’m going to be home watching on my television set and I encourage other people to take advantage of that.”

Officials use New Year’s Eve celebrations to mitigate spread, vaccinate residents

Some cities, like Boston, have announced plans to mitigate the spread of infection at their annual celebrations.

As part of Boston’s First Night event, city workers will distribute 1,000 rapid test kits, and provide a COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots clinic to all people ages 5 and older.

“Welcoming 2022 and gathering to make plans for the new year is an important, healing, joyful ritual and tradition that happens in Boston, and this year, we are making sure that public health leads the way,” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said at a press conference Thursday.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, officials will offer on-site COVID-19 testing, and require all guests in attendance to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Fauci stressed on Wednesday that ultimately, small-scale gatherings at home, such as those with close family members and friends, who have all been vaccinated and boosted, are still the safest type of event to hold.

“If you were in a situation with a family setting, in your home, with family, parents, children, grandparents, and everyone is vaccinated and boosted, although the risk is never zero in anything, the risk is low enough that we feel you should continue to go through with those plans,” Fauci said.

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