Every year on Dec. 31, the approach of midnight finds us drawing a line in time. The way we do this varies — we eat black-eyed peas, or fling open the windows, or run into an icy ocean — but the idea is always the same. On this night, we put something behind us and seal it off, so it is part of the past. And then we try to begin again.
It is difficult to imagine any year when our need of this ritual has been greater. Many of us have lost those dearest to us, and absorbed those losses in isolation. Livelihoods have been wiped away like vapor from a window. And yet, without the fireworks, the giddiness of crowds, we have never been so constrained in our rituals.
That does not mean we are not celebrating. Inside lighted rooms, we will raise glasses to the people who sacrificed for us, to the triumphant performance of our health care workers, and to a thousand small kindnesses already receding from memory. Yeah, yeah, the end of a year may be an illusion, just a way to trick ourselves into keeping going. But we made it.
The atmosphere in Times Square was unrecognizable three hours before New York City ended one of its most challenging years in history.
With the area sealed off to the public, artists like Gloria Gaynor and Machine Gun Kelly performed to crowds of dozens. Yellow inflatable tube dancers set up along sidewalks rivaled the number of guests. And where hundreds of thousands once would have clustered shoulder-to-shoulder, police officers paced through unfettered by crowds.
In the lead-up to the evening, officials warned New Yorkers and tourists that all uninvited guests would be turned away. Would-be visitors seemed, for the most part, to hear the message, and an eerie stillness across Duffy Square was filled only by electrical hums and the distant murmurs of conversations.
Rafael Mann of Hell’s Kitchen was on a nearby street walking alone to pick up an order for his family and return to his apartment. Though the muted festivities were slightly disappointing, Mr. Mann said, he had no desire for a large celebration this time.
“It’s been such a long year,” Mr. Mann, 30, said, “I kind of just want to have a relaxing night and say goodbye to it all.”
Earlier in the day, most people wandering the area appeared content to squeeze in last looks, and selfies, as preparations continued for a pared-back celebration amid a comparatively barren streetscape.
“You don’t normally get to see Times Square empty,” Allysa Hassid of Manhattan said after pausing for a picture with her 2-year-old daughter, Jolene. Ms. Hassid knew she could not watch the ball drop from where she was standing, but she was not letting that spoil her mood.
“We’re going to be home the rest of the night,” she said, “so this feels really festive.”
“Festive in a weird way,” she added.
There was a similar sense in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn as midnight approached.
At Five Leaves on Bedford Avenue, Gabe Stuart and two friends sipped hot buttered rum from cardboard cups, enjoying the sidewalk seating after finding nearby McCarren Park, where they had planned to share a bottle of wine, empty.
“The idea was to stay outside, and eventually go to sleep pretty early,” Mr. Stuart said with a laugh. He described spending last New Year’s Eve with the same friends, smoking cigars at a lavish party in Greenpoint. “It was over the top. New Year’s Eve in New York can be hit or miss, so this year expectations are pretty low. But it’s pretty weird.”
Amanda Browder and two friends who had been apartment hunting were among those enjoying free shots at the Grand Republic cocktail club in Greenpoint, which offered them hourly until 10 p.m., when state regulations required it to close.
“That was our little celebration, right there,” Ms. Browder said after she finished her shot and a piece of chocolate cake was delivered to her table. After finishing the cocktail she had ordered, Ms. Browder was still pondering a late-night bike ride across the Williamsburg Bridge. She planned to sleep late on Friday.
“2020 was brutal,” she said. “I’m happy it’s over.”
The glittering, black-tie New Year’s Eve celebration at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort had in previous years been one of the highlights of the social season in Palm Beach, Fla. People paid hundreds of dollars for tickets. Celebrities including Sylvester Stallone, Rod Stewart, and Woody Allen attended. Guests feasted on caviar and drank Champagne.
But this year, the bash doesn’t even include President Trump. He had planned to attend, but without explanation left the resort town on Thursday morning to return to Washington.
The streets around Mar-a-Lago were quiet at 8 p.m. Gone were the dozens of police officers present whenever the president is. Gone was the barricade that blocks the town’s main road, creating traffic jams. Gone were the Trump supporters who cheer him on from across the Intercoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach.
The town of Palm Beach has imposed a 1 a.m. curfew, limiting New Year’s Eve festivities, and Mar-a-Lago officials declined to comment about the evening gala’s attendance, menu, or entertainment. But as a full moon shone above the resort, guests drove through the front and back gates in luxury cars. Men wore tuxedos, the women gowns, and some masks.
To ring out a year the world wishes had been an illusion, the biggest event in Paris really was one. It is called, perhaps optimistically, “Welcome to the Other Side.”
From within a virtual Notre-Dame Cathedral — a resurrected, reimagined version of the fire-gutted treasure — the city livestreamed a computer-generated concert and light show, with no one actually inside the cavernous landmark, and no crowd outside.
Most people now living have never seen a year that Europe, like much of the world, was so eager to bid good riddance to — or so unable to send off with any fanfare. Vaccines are the first real rays of hope, but the coronavirus still reigns unchecked, a new variant is stoking new fears, and much of the continent is under some form of lockdown.
Concerts? Canceled. Crowds and parties? Banned. Staying out all night? Don’t even think about it. Across Europe, where Covid-19 has killed almost 600,000 people, cities and nations sent the message that the only acceptable place to spend New Year’s Eve was at home, and they tried to arrange enough spectacle broadcast or online to keep people there.
“Covid loves a crowd,” said Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director for England in Britain’s National Health Service. “So please leave the parties for later in the year.”
In a televised address from the Élysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron of France — recovering from his own bout of the virus — said that “the year 2020 ends as it unfolded: with efforts and restrictions.”
In Berlin, the traditional TV broadcast from the Brandenburg Gate went off without fireworks or live spectators. It is one of 56 popular New Year’s Eve spots around the city that the authorities are closing overnight in the hopes of dissuading outdoor gatherings, which are prohibited. Indoor get-togethers are limited to five adults from no more than two households. The sale of private fireworks, a tradition for the holiday Germans call Sylvester because it is the feast day of St. Sylvester, was banned — though some went off, anyway. “It is necessary that this be the probably quietest New Year’s Eve that Germany can remember,” said Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister.
Instead of its annual outdoor live concert, Rome substituted a celebration streamed online, with a range of performances, and a hard-to-describe event, part concert, part light show and part stargazing, titled “How to Hear the Universe in a Spider/Web.” With Italy under a 10 p.m. curfew and the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks banned, President Sergio Mattarella said in his annual address that the pandemic had changed the country, “sharpening the fragilities of the past, aggravating old inequalities and generating new ones.”
In Geneva, fireworks around Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Leman) at the heart of the city were canceled, and bars and restaurants were closed, though restrictions on private gatherings were eased from five to 10 people. Many residents of the quiet city had departed for Swiss ski resorts that remained open — much to the chagrin of neighboring European countries who have opted to shutter their slopes to prevent the further spread of coronavirus cases.
In London, Big Ben, largely silent in recent years as its clock tower underwent renovations, rang 12 times at midnight, one of the few standout moments in a country where major celebrations were canceled. For most Britons, getting together with anyone outside their own households was forbidden, a rule backed up by a fine of up to 1,000 pounds, or more than $1,300.
Madrid eased its curfew for the night from midnight to 1:30 a.m., which would usually count as early for a night out in Spain, but the traditional gathering in the Puerta del Sol square was canceled. People were told to stay at home as much as possible, eating the traditional New Year’s Eve grapes while watching events on TV, and gathering in groups of no more than six.
And in Paris, the only people roaming the Champs-Élysées — where just a year ago, some 300,000 people assembled for a huge fireworks display — were some of the 100,000 police officers deployed around the country to prevent crowds from gathering. City officials urged people to watch the virtual Notre-Dame concert by the electronic music artist Jean-Michel Jarre, an event bridging the ancient and the modern, the old year and the new, the pandemic and the hope that it will end. It would be a message of hope and a “tribute to Notre-Dame, which is weakened,” Mr. Jarre told French media, “like all of us.”
Asia and pacific roundup
Auckland, New ZealandCredit…Dave Rowland/Getty Images for Auckland Unlimited
For much of China it looked set to be a quiet New Year’s Eve, as the customary light shows, fireworks and temple festivals were suspended or canceled as officials focused on controlling a smattering of small new outbreaks of the coronavirus, most notably in the capital, Beijing, and the northern city of Shenyang.
Yet there was one notable exception: Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December 2019.
The central Chinese city that spent the beginning of 2020 closed off to the world under harsh lockdowns went ahead with boisterous festivities, including a concert by the city’s philharmonic orchestra; a discussion by the famed talk-show host Luo Zhenyu; a light show along the Yangtze River, which runs through Wuhan; and a cyberpunk electronic music festival.
Shanghai Disneyland had said it was going ahead with fireworks, but Beijing and Guangzhou canceled annual light shows.
The small Pacific island nation of Samoa became one of the first places in the world to welcome the new year, 19 hours ahead of the Eastern United States. On the nearby island of Tonga, an overnight curfew that has been in place since March as part of the country’s coronavirus response was temporarily lifted for the night. Tonga is one of the few countries that has recorded no coronavirus cases, but gatherings are still limited and residents are required to socially distance.
The annual fireworks display at Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, which normally attracts over a million people, was mainly seen on TV or online, as the government limited access to the area. Outside the Sydney Opera House, musicians performed to an empty venue, livestreamed around the country.
Unlike most of the world, celebrations in New Zealand looked a lot like those of years past. People in Auckland came together at beachside neighborhoods to gaze at the midnight fireworks display bursting over the harbor. Friends convened for toasts and barbecued at holiday homes. Signs of the pandemic were few as masks were optional — and rarely worn.
In Japan, worshipers traditionally flood into shrines and temples on New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year. But in an effort to limit crowds, the gates at the popular Meiji Shrine in Tokyo were closed at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
In some of the biggest cities in India, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, hotels and bars were shuttered at 11 p.m., and large gatherings were prohibited, The Associated Press reported. In Mumbai, drones scoured the city, keeping close tabs on the whereabouts of residents.
Thousands of spectators attended a fireworks show in Taipei, Taiwan, where the mood was celebratory. Taiwan has been among the few success stories during the coronavirus pandemic, having recorded a total of only 799 cases and seven deaths.
The usually rowdy New Year’s Eve revelry in the Philippines, punctuated by firecrackers and the firing of guns into the air, has been muted this year, with nearly all local governments banning the practice in order to prevent injuries and because many people are not in the mood to celebrate.
Guam, a U.S. territory that sits between Japan and Australia, was the first populated area of the United States to leave 2020 by the wayside. But there were no open bars, nightclubs or fireworks shows to welcome the new year. Grocery sales of meat and alcohol were up, suggesting that many of the island’s 170,000 residents were ringing in 2021 in the comfort of their own homes.
“I’m going to start crying, sorry.”
Carla Hall, tearing up at the decades of memories she has watching Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which has been canceled this New Year’s Day.
“I give 2020 two stars.”
“I’m tired of being in lockdown.”
“I was thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’ll actually have to uninvite people, how do I choose?’”
Morgana Mountfort-Davies, who organized a New Year’s Eve party with 22 guests, lamenting new rules in Melbourne, Australia, that limit gatherings to 15 people.
“We’re almost out of 2020 — just breathe.”
“Covid loves a crowd. So please leave the parties for later in the year.”
Stephen Powis, the national medical director of National Health Service England, urging revelers to restrain themselves.
“I’m going to seal 2020 for life. I don’t want to come back to it. It’s time to leave it behind.”
On his family’s trips to Mexico, Jose Gabriel Martinez would buy a special bottle of tequila and make a rule: They would open it and finish it on New Year’s Eve.
Mr. Martinez loved the holidays — stringing up Christmas lights outside his family’s home in Iowa, eating his wife’s tamales for days and leading boisterous family New Year’s parties that spilled long past midnight.
This year, the family will be gathering for the first time without Mr. Martinez, 58, who died of the coronavirus in April, the first known victim of the pandemic in the agricultural town of West Liberty, Iowa. There will be no gathering of extended family members. No dance-offs. No wild countdown to midnight. And no ceremonial bottle with Mr. Martinez pouring drinks of tequila and Squirt.
Instead, the family plans to reflect together on how 2020 changed them.
“I’m ready,” said Mr. Martinez’s son, Omar, 30. “I’m going to seal 2020 for life. I don’t want to come back to it. It’s time to leave it behind.”
The virus crashed into their lives in late March when Omar’s mother and sister got sick. Omar and his father became caregivers, fixing green tea, kiwis, pineapple and bananas to try to keep them hydrated and nourished.
Then his father began gasping for breath.
Omar said his father was a tough, loving head of the family who always insisted he was fine. Even as he struggled to breathe, he strode around the house and stretched, willing his body to fight the virus. Omar drove him to Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, where he died on April 21.
The family has vowed to get healthier in 2021 after months of quarantine and stress, by cutting out sugars and soda from their diet. They are longing for a return to normal. Omar Martinez has already received his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine because he works on the town’s fire and ambulance squad, and he is anxious for the rest of his family to get it.
He said the family will end the year thinking about what they have lost, but also about what remains.
“Our bond has become that much stronger now,” Omar Martinez said. “To realize we’re all we’ve got.”
Babacar Sene sells accessories in Independence Square.Credit…Ricci Shryock for The New York Times
Every New Year’s Eve in Dakar it’s the same thing.
For one day, the capital of what is arguably the most peaceable country in West Africa sounds like a bit of a war zone. Anyone and everyone purchases fireworks and sets them off in any direction they like.
Kids playing in the street? Avoid them at all costs. They will throw bangers at you. The sweet-looking lady selling sandwiches? Watch out, she might have a Catherine wheel hidden in her cart. Even the policemen could have rockets up their sleeves.
This year is different, of course. There hasn’t been a lockdown in Dakar for months, but the government recently banned large gatherings again after coronavirus cases started to rise in early December.
The last few hours of the year here were muted. Police patrolled the central square downtown, ready to break up any parties. Most people were drinking their champagne, or bissap — hibiscus juice — at home. Firecracker hawkers struggled to sell their stock.
“People want to buy, but there’s no money,” said Ndeye Mbaye, a vendor on General de Gaulle Boulevard, absent-mindedly tapping a Galaxy Candle against a Magical Shots tube as she waited for customers, and boys begged passing adults to buy them a rocket.
There were still a few thrills to be had. At dusk, in the back streets near West Africa’s biggest mosque, boys threw bang snaps at each other. One cupped his hands around a match, lighting the Roman candle held up by his friend, who screwed up his face at each blast.
And Amadou Sarr, who moved back to Senegal last year after 24 years in Atlanta, said that because he was finally home, 2020 had been the greatest year of his life.
“I’m partying; Covid can’t stop me,” he said from the stoop of his new store selling American products.
But for most people, 2020 has been a year of bad business and economic hardship. Confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 have been lower in much of Africa than on other continents, but lockdowns and closed borders have caused a lot of suffering.
Raky Sow, 27, usually would be at home on New Year’s Eve, celebrating. But this year, as the sun began to dip behind HLM, Dakar’s biggest fabric and accessories market, she was still at her stall selling lingerie and bin bins, strings of beads worn around the waist.
“People normally buy a lot before New Year’s, but now they’re not coming,” she said, taking gold beads from a bowl on her lap and stitching them onto a red net skirt. “2020 — enough already. It’s a year I’ll never forget.”
It will be a quiet and somewhat somber New Year’s in Colombia, where the virus is spreading rapidly, after a few weeks of semi-containment.
New daily cases have surged over the last month, hitting about 15,000 a day at the end of December. Daily deaths have risen as well. Intensive care units are nearing capacity. The mayor of Bogotá, the capital, has reinstated some measures restricting movement and barred the sale of liquor on New Year’s Day.
But some small signs of celebration remain. Colombians are well known for their New Year’s superstitions: Many will eat 12 grapes at midnight, stuff their suitcases with clothes and walk around the block (to usher in travel and adventure), and ring in the year while wearing a new pair of yellow underwear (in a bid for love and happiness).
And across the country, many families will engage in a generations-old tradition: stuffing a scarecrow — named the “año viejo,” or “old year” — and then, amid cheers, burning it to the ground.
Montreal has long prided itself on being Canada’s party city, a place where revelers dance until dawn on New Year’s Eve before nursing their hangovers with poutine, that trouser-busting dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy.
But this year, the city and the rest of the province of Quebec, the epicenter of the pandemic in Canada, are bracing for low-key anticlimax.
At a state liquor store in Montreal’s bohemian Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood, people were already lining up at noon to buy champagne. But the mood was somber and resigned.
Louise Germain, a retired public health worker, said what she would not be doing. She would not cook anything special, and she would not see her extended family.
She would, instead, be glued to the television with her husband, most likely tuning in to “Bye bye,” a year-end satirical show that draws millions of Quebecers and has been around for decades.
Lucrece Nana, 25, an international business student from Cameroon, said she planned to spend New Year’s at home with a friend, cooking a special chicken and seafood dish, sipping champagne and doing a Zoom call with her family back home.
“It doesn’t feel like a normal New Year’s,” she said. “It is a bit sad.”
Too much has been canceled this year in Eastport, Maine, a tiny fishing city situated on a group of islands at the easternmost tip of New England. The Fourth of July was canceled. So was the Pirate Festival and the Salmon Festival.
So when it came time to decide about the annual New Year’s Eve Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop, the organizers were understandably dug in.
Sixteen years ago, the Great Sardine Drop injected an oddball gaiety into a city that had become hushed and empty-feeling, haunted by nostalgia for its industrial heyday, before tuna shoved sardines aside as the nation’s lunch fish.
In a normal year, hundreds of revelers, their breath making puffs in the cold air, gather together in the city’s three-block downtown, outside the old Eastport Bank building. A brass band plays “O Canada” at 11 p.m., when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia ring in the new year, and “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight.
They cheer as an eight-foot wooden sardine, festooned with Christmas lights, slides down to the street on a pulley from an upper-story window. Then, a few years ago, for reasons the event’s organizers cannot quite explain, the citizens of Eastport began to kiss the fish for good luck.
“Someone just did it, and it took off,” said Kristin McKinlay, 48, director of exhibitions at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, which organizes the event. Once, she said, “This police car pulled up, and I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ The policeman got out of the car, kissed the fish, got back in and continued on his patrol.”
Last year, dozens of people lined up to be photographed kissing the sardine, which Ms. McKinlay remembers because she wanted to go home.
“I bet it took a half hour for people to get through,” she said. “There was quite a line. It was always a little disgusting, even before Covid.”
As the new year approached, Ms. McKinlay and her husband, Hugh French, the museum’s director, were looking for a way to preserve the Sardine Drop. They approached the Eastport Fire Department, which had recently sent a fire truck around the city with a Santa Claus aboard, to ask about doing something similar. The fire chief agreed immediately.
As Thursday night approaches, celebratory kits with masks, noisemakers and maple cookies will be distributed. A fire truck will turn on its lights and rig up a public address system. And then it will carry the plywood maple leaf and the New Year’s sardine — “it’s technically a herring, since it’s not in a can,” Ms. McKinlay allowed — past nearly every house in Eastport, a loop expected to take around two and a half hours.
“If you can’t have them come down,” she said, “we will take it to them.”
(But some things cannot be recreated in the conditions of a global pandemic: This year, she said, no one kisses the fish.)
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, well-attended parties have mostly been shut down across Los Angeles, which has led to a culture of secrecy on social media.
But for all those who can’t imagine leaving their homes right now, there are others who are fully ready to celebrate the arrival of 2021 in the company of near strangers, despite the pleas of public health officials.
These New Year’s Eve parties in Los Angeles, where more than 14,000 positive coronavirus tests are being reported in a day, include Spanky’s, which promises a laid-back affair at an “indoor/outdoor” venue downtown. The price of admission includes a “10 min Covid-19 antigen test,” according to the invite
An iOS app called Vybe Together encouraged users to “Get your rebel on” and “Get your party on,” and was designed to organize and promote underground parties to its audience. After it received attention this week, its website went down and Apple pulled the app from its store.
Eventbrite, an event management and ticketing platform, has also been a popular option for people hosting parties. A recent “Maskerade” at a Los Angeles mansion ($80, open bar, round-trip party-bus ride) was advertised there. The invite, which drew ire on social media, has been removed from Eventbrite’s website.
“Our Community Guidelines have always prohibited events that promote or contain illegal behavior,” a spokesperson for Eventbrite said in a statement. The company investigates complaints and says it wants to foster digital gatherings during the pandemic.
Those who wish to party anyway will return to finding celebrations the retro way: through private Instagrams, DMs and invites with no downloadable details, just an address that will be texted out before midnight along with a request to wear a mask.
In the hierarchy of holiday traditions, there is but one that combines mystery, allure, romance and potentially confetti: the New Year’s Eve midnight kiss. It also offers the benefit, according to superstition, of preventing a year of loneliness.
What could be a better way to end a year of trials and tribulations than to lose yourself in the eyes of a beautiful stranger as you count down the last seconds of 2020 and celebrate with a smooch?
“That would be an absolutely not,” said John O’Horo, an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “Kissing a stranger would be pretty much at the top of the list of things that could have potential for spread.”
But, you might be thinking, what if I’ve been vaccinated? Still no.
What if I had the virus already? You probably shouldn’t risk it.
What if my partner and I wear masks as we smush our faces together? A slight improvement, Dr. O’Horo said, but still not advisable. (Experts recommend a combination or social distancing and mask wearing to prevent spread).
Some historians trace the kissing tradition to Saturnalia, a days-long Roman pagan festival held in mid-December. Later German and English folklore said that the first person you come in contact with in the new year “dictated that year’s destiny,” according to “Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl.”
The superstitious say a kiss — or lack thereof — could mean 12 months of continued affection or loneliness, according to Pete Geiger, the editor of the Farmer’s Almanac.
A frequent plotline in popular culture, like “When Harry Met Sally,” the tradition is widespread. In 1863, The Times reported that “hearty kisses” were exchanged “like rolls of labial musketry” at the stroke of midnight at a New York City celebration. At the Times Square festivities for 2011, Nivea distributed 30,000 samples of lip balm to revelers.
But this year might be the time to break from tradition, said Frank Esper, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, who noted that kissing a stranger goes against the “holy trinity” of social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing.
Every December since 2017, Ada Rojas has guided women through the process of memorializing their New Year’s resolutions on a vision board, a collage that reflects their goals and helps keep them on track. But this time around, Ms. Rojas is not holding the workshop Good Vibes & Chill until February.
She thinks people need a break.
“This was a really intense year,” Ms. Rojas, a Chicago-based creative entrepreneur, said. “Forcing people to process and digest the crazy year that we’ve had, and then turn around and focus on your goals for next year, it’s a lot.”
Even so, people are setting New Year’s resolutions at exactly the same rate as last year, according to a recent survey by the market research company Ipsos, which found that 38 percent of Americans have done so.
What has changed is what’s behind the resolution: three-quarters of those respondents said their resolutions were influenced by the pandemic, with at least one in four saying it had prompted them to focus more on mental wellness, healthier eating and their finances.
“The way that the pandemic has affected people can influence the resolutions that they set,” Steven Taylor, who wrote “The Psychology of Pandemics,” said. Those who lost their jobs might focus on financial security, for instance.
Ms. Rojas believes that the pandemic helped people pivot “from materialistic things to tangible feelings that they want to feel.” Next year, in addition to her workshop, she will also offer monthly check-ins to remedy the disconnectedness that many feel. “It’s time for us to get to the root of the things that we want,” she said.
First there was Thanksgiving, when some families who gathered for turkey and stuffing also shared the coronavirus, causing cases to spike in some places and further taxing the nation’s already stretched hospitals.
Then there was Christmas weekend, when Americans crowded airports in numbers not seen since the start of the pandemic. Anyone who caught the virus then would probably still be in the incubation phase or just starting to feel symptoms now, so it’s too soon yet to gauge the full impact of people’s Christmas activities.
Now comes New Year’s Eve, an occasion for celebrating in large crowds, often among strangers, drinking and reveling and uttering a primal yell when the clock strikes twelve.
In other words, it’s a holiday tailor-made for superspreader events. And it arrives just as the first cases of a new, more contagious variant of the virus have been detected in the United States, in ways that suggest it is already circulating widely.
“It’s in a small community south of Denver, so it’s reasonable to think that it could already be in New York City,” said Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
New Year’s Eve, he said, “risks accelerating the introduction of any variants that are more transmissible into communities, and we have reason to think that those are beginning to emerge.”
The risk of transmission rises with the size of the gathering, of course, but also with the amount of alcohol consumed, Dr. Hanage said.
People who drink “become disinhibited,” he noted, “and when they get disinhibited, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior.”
The safest way to see in the new year is at home, with no one outside your household, Dr. Hanage said, but if people do gather in greater numbers, they can decrease the risk somewhat by doing it outdoors and by wearing masks.
“It doesn’t sound very fun or easy to drink champagne through,” he said, “but wearing a mask is going to provide another barrier to potential transmission.”