In New York’s Times Square, a few dozen special invitees—‘everyday heroes’ who have helped the city through the coronavirus pandemic—and their guests will make up the crowd this year. But the show will go on; ‘I Will Survive.’

For as long as she can remember,
Annmarie Gajdos
has wanted to ring in the new year in New York Citys Times Square, joining the hordes of raucous revelers as they wait for the crystal-laden, nearly 12,000-pound ball to drop at midnight.On Thursday night, Ms. Gajdos, a 22-year-old resident of the citys Staten Island borough, will finally get her wish. The only catch? She will practically have the place to herself.Ms. Gajdos will be one of a few dozen special invitees selected to attend the bash because they represent everyday heroes who have helped the city through the coronavirus pandemic. The event normally draws hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom travel from afar, pay prime hotel rates, buy novelty glasses and hats and wait for hours in freezing weather for the experience. This year the invitees, who each can bring up to four of their friends or family members, will result in a crowd of around a hundred.
The public at large has essentially been uninvited because of concerns the festivities would serve as the ultimate super-spreader event.
Were throwing a party and we dont want anyone to show up, says
Tim Tompkins,
president of the nonprofit Times Square Alliance, which co-produces the event.
The New Years Eve celebration in Times Square will be missing a key piece this year: the crowd. But for New York and other cities around the world, the show will go on. WSJs Jason Bellini explains how cities plan to say goodbye to 2020 amid a pandemic. Photo: Getty Images
But the annual show will still go on for the benefit of the television cameras and the lucky chosen attendees, from hospital employees to food-delivery workers, who will be tested for the virus prior to showing up. Each invitees friends-and-family group will be separated from others into socially distant, 8-by-8-foot pens created with police barricades. They will have chairs and access to that rarest of luxuries, at least by the normal tough-it-out standards of New Years in Times Squarea toilet.
I cant imagine standing outside for numerous hours and not being able to find a bathroom, says Ms. Gajdos, who is employed by a mental-health social-work agency.
The New Years Eve celebration in Times Square started in 1904 when New York Times owner
Adolph Ochs
organized a party, including fireworks, to commemorate the opening of the newspapers new headquarters. The first ball drop was three years later, and has taken place every year since except for two years during World War II, when people marked the New Year with a minute of silence followed by the ringing of chimes, according to Alliance.
Many other big cities have scaled back or canceled their New Years Eve celebrations this year, including Las Vegas, Sydney, Hong Kong and London.
For those who insist on celebrating in Times Square but didnt snag an invitation, a virtual alternative exists.
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Real-estate company Jamestown, which owns and manages One Times Square, the building where the famous ball drops, has created a free app that lets people roam a virtual version of the neighborhood with their own avatar. Avatars can walk the streets, take in a musical performance and even enter a store.
About 159,000 users have signed up so far for the app, which will also feature real views from cameras placed around Times Square on New Years Eve, says
Michael Phillips,
president of Jamestown.
An app cant replicate the real experience, but Mr. Phillips highlights at least one special activityTheres a dance competition.
Ronald Colbert,
66, is one of the fortunate few who will be able to party in person. A deckhand on the Staten Island Ferry who has been working throughout the pandemic, Mr. Colbert was among those chosen to attend.
Alliance picked the invitees through crowdsourcing, an online process and nominations from groups.
Mr. Colbert has been celebrating New Years in Times Square every year since 1982, and he says he was happy that his streak would remain unbroken. I was expecting to boycott this year, I didnt want to watch it on TV, he says.
In recent years, Mr. Colbert has arrived as early as 8 a.m. to secure a spot in front of his preferred vantage point, the Paramount Building on Broadway. He usually went solo, saying it was difficult to convince friends or family to brave the elements and crowds.
He was tested a few years back when the windchill dipped below zerohe says he felt like my face was going to crack. This year it is expected to be relatively warmin the 30s.
Since his place is reserved, Mr. Colbert doesnt have to show up until the celebration kicks into high gear at 6 p.m. Despite these perks, he still couldnt persuade anyone to join him, saying his fellow New Yorkers simply couldnt believe that Times Square wont be crowded, cold and uncomfortable on New Years Eve.
I couldnt even get my lady friend to go, he says.
Some aspects of the event do remain in place. Confetti will still rain down on the worlds most famous tourist district when the clock strikes 12. And major musical artists will perform on the stage throughout the night.
This year, Grammy Award-winner
Gloria Gaynor
is slated to be among them, singing her 1978 disco anthem I Will Survive as a fitting coda to 2020. Ms. Gaynor says she usually feeds off the energy of the crowd but is prepared for the small audience since she has already done several performances during the pandemic via video from the isolation of her New Jersey home.
Covid has gotten me used to this, she says. At least for the Times Square show, she says, she wont have to serve as her own camera operator.
Staging a crowd-free New Years Eve party requires logistical savvy. A big challenge is making sure people dont attempt to congregate.
The New York Police Department will maintain a nine-block perimeter around Times Square to keep uninvited onlookers away, according to the department. City officials say they gained experience at this years spectator-free Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was confined to a block-long stretch.
At least for New Years Eve, we dont have to contend with giant balloons, says
Ellyn Canfield,
director of Mayor
Bill de Blasios
office of citywide events.
Another aspect that will likelier be easier to manage this New Years: the cleanup.
Edward Grayson,
commissioner of the citys department of sanitation, says his crew has hauled away 60 tons of trash after each celebration in recent years. This year hes expecting 15 to 20 tons.
That doesnt make him happy.
We would rather be closing the New Years event normally, cleaning out the biggest party in the world, he says.
Write to Charles Passy at and Kate King at
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