Seldom have the words of the classic 1947 song, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” had more meaning than on this last day of 2021, when the world remains in pandemic mode and the simple act of gathering with friends and loved ones can be dangerous.
With many people vaccinated — including a third booster shot — the idea of New Year’s Eve parties seemed possible just a few weeks ago.
With the rapidly spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 now exploding, many who wanted to gather indoors are canceling, and others are insisting on rapid tests before the party. That’s still risky because it’s unlikely that people at a big shindig will be wearing masks indoors for long. On New Year’s Eve, people generally are drinking and eating all night. They won’t be covering their mouths and noses.
That means, should usual patterns hold up, a surge in cases. A slight silver lining so far is that omicron is highly contagious but perhaps not as deadly as the delta variant — with fewer people hospitalized or dying.
Still, a person who tests positive for COVID-19 has to stay isolated for a number of days, staying home from work or school. The effects are being seen around the globe.
PBS Newshour reported last week that in London, staff absences for COVID-19 tripled, while some 10 percent of city firefighters called in sick. Twice the number of New York City police officers took off last week compared to a usual day. All essential services — health care, emergency response, grocery stores and others — are getting by with fewer people. And it’s likely only going to get worse until omicron plays itself out.
In Santa Fe, the outdoor countdown to the New Year will continue as planned. Outdoor gatherings are less likely to transmit the disease, but a big crowd still means people could become ill as a result of attending.
If you’re going to the Plaza, wear a high-quality mask (bonus — it will keep the wearer warm, especially with a scarf wrapped round it). Stand apart, too, and don’t crowd up against others.
Bundle up because temperatures are going to be frigid — a high of 38 degrees and a low of 17 degrees are expected Friday. With bonfires and heaters, people can at least try and stay warm. Watch for weather updates because snow is a possibility.
On the Plaza, free music and fireworks will keep people entertained, starting at 8 p.m. Just before midnight, Kiwanis Club members will be raising the Zia symbol to mark the coming of 2022 — it’s a new day, and the rising sun symbolizes hope and possibilities.
A 20-minute fireworks show launched from La Fonda on the Plaza will ring in the new year; this is the third such event Kiwanis volunteers do for Santa Fe, the others being the Fourth of July and the Burning of Zozobra. That’s community spirit, the kind we need to navigate through these challenging times.
And so it goes on these final days of 2021. Individuals continue to balance traditional activities — holiday gatherings and celebrations of a new year — with smart public health strategies. COVID-19 is not going anywhere, so balancing is going to be a way of life.
So, what are you doing New Year’s Eve?
Here’s the answer for everyone: We will be bidding goodbye to what has been a difficult, challenging year.
That will be true for people snug in their beds early, or sitting by the fire with a good book or shouting down the old year with strangers.
Happy New Year to all. This world sure could use one about now.