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Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop will go virtual this year

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 01: Confetti flies through the air in Times Square just after the annual ball drop January 01, 2011 in New York City. The iconic ball drop will go virtual on New Year's Eve, making it the latest tradition to be altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Photo by Brian Harkin/Getty Images)

NEW YORK CITY — The iconic ball drop in Times Square that signifies the end of another year will go virtual on New Year’s Eve, becoming just the latest tradition altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The event will still broadcast live elements, implementing a scaled-back and socially distant celebration. But this year, only an “extremely limited” group of people will attend — with barricades blocking off the square to crowds. 

“People all over the globe are ready to join New Yorkers in welcoming in the new year with the iconic Ball Drop,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement.  “A new year means a fresh start, and we’re excited to celebrate.”

The iconic ball drop goes virtual

New Yorkers began celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square as early as 1904 — debuting the emblematic ball drop in 1907. The ball has dropped every year since then, with the exception of 1942 and 1943. In those World War II years, New Yorkers substituted a citywide “dimout” for the traditional ceremony. 

Since then, the event has gathered international attention; hundreds of thousands of travelers come to New York each year for the event. 

“One thing that will never change is the ticking of time and the arrival of a New Year at midnight on December 31st,” said Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance. “But this year there will be significantly new and enhanced virtual, visual and digital offerings to complement whatever limited live entertainment or experiences – still in development — will take place in Times Square.”

Organizers seek to renew hope

At the onset of the pandemic, New York was one of the hardest-hit states regarding COVID-19 cases and deaths. The state has reported roughly 475,000 confirmed cases and 32,859 deaths as of Friday. 

However, organizers say they want to divert attention away from the pandemic. Instead, they’ll focus on “a sense of hope, renewal and resolution.”

“We will miss everyone this year but we will bring our celebration to you,” said Jeff Straus, President of Countdown Entertainment. “Whether you want to turn off and turn away from the bad news of 2020, or turn to the new year with a sense of hope, you’ll be able to join us.”

To do this, Straus said the event will still weave together the biggest pop culture moments from 2020. The goal: to reflect on “the best of the human spirit.”

This will include celebrations of Americans ranging from essential workers and first responders to doctors and nurses. The event will also continue with its tradition of honoring newly-emerging artists and entertainers. 

“No one needs to be reminded of what the dominant news of 2020 has been so far: COVID-19 and a host of racial, economic and climate crises,” Tompkins said. “We will note where we’ve been but more importantly we will honor and celebrate the courageous and creative spirits who have helped and will help us travel through these challenging times into the New Year.”