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A glimpse into how Times Square's ball drop celebration will be different this year

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is New Year's Eve. And in a typical year, many of us, whether from home in our PJs or out on the streets in New York, would be waiting for this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Three, two, one.

KELLY: That is the ball dropping in Times Square on New Year's Eve 2019, the last time we had something resembling a normal celebration. So what will ringing in 2022 be like there tonight? The man in charge of the festivities is Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance. That's a nonprofit that helps local businesses and pulls off big events like tonight's.

Mr. Harris, welcome.

TOM HARRIS: Thank you very much for having me. And normal is boring. Times Square is never boring. So we are excited to welcome revelers back to Times Square this year.

KELLY: Yeah. So y'all are going ahead with the live event. How different is it going to look this year?

HARRIS: So when we announced the event, we thought it was important to have it a fully vaccinated event. So we will be checking the vaccination status of folks as they arrive just before they pass through the New York City Police Department's screening stations. With the uptick in cases, we have added a mask mandate. We're also going to be filling the viewing areas to about 25% capacity, so they will be less dense.

KELLY: OK. You've really cut down on capacity - 15,000 people who are going to be allowed past those barriers.

HARRIS: Yes. We're checking with the medical experts, and we think that that's the safer way to proceed with the event.

KELLY: I mean, for you, what was the calculation on going ahead? With cases surging, I mean, how did you weigh this?

HARRIS: So New York City's open. Our schools are open. Our restaurants are open. Our theaters are open. We're a symbol to the world. And we are in the midst of recovery. Welcoming revelers back is one step closer in that recovery process. So we thought that having the event and managing the crowd was the safer and more responsible thing to do.

KELLY: Did it give you pause, though, looking at all the cities around the country, around the world that have canceled New Year's Eve? - because I'm sure the last thing you want to do is stage a superspreader event in Times Square.

HARRIS: Of course. So we leaned on the medical experts and Mayor de Blasio and Governor Hochul's mandate that we're not doing shutdowns now. So all of those things factored in. And we felt that COVID is here. We need to learn to live with it and live our life and do it in the safest way possible.

For those who aren't comfortable coming to Times Square, it's a matter of choice. So if you're not comfortable coming to Times Square, you can view the events from our website at tsq.org, on any one of the networks. Or we have a virtual New Year's Eve app. So we think it's about giving people choice. And they - those who choose to come to Times Square, we will welcome them. And those who don't can view it on our website.

KELLY: And I gather there's a grand finale after the grand finale tonight, after the ball drop. You're going to be swearing in the new mayor. Eric Adams will be sworn in right after midnight as the 110th mayor of New York.

HARRIS: We're very excited that Mayor-elect Adams will become Mayor Adams in Times Square in front of the world. It's very exciting for us.

KELLY: Where are you going to be at midnight?

HARRIS: I will be with my family on the red steps in Times Square - with my work family. For me, it's the intersection of hard work, family and fun. And it's my peak time of the year.

KELLY: Well, I will be in my PJs, watching and raising a glass from home and wishing everyone a very Happy New Year's Eve and a safe one. Thanks so much for talking to us.

HARRIS: Thanks for having me. Happy New Year to everyone.

KELLY: Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOT CHIP SONG, "STARTED RIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.