As business owners adjust party plans amid COVID surge, health experts weigh in on best practices for New Year’s Eve

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Healthcare providers are urging caution as New Year’s Eve approaches amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. During a White House press briefing on Wednesday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci said there’s no need to cancel small gatherings with boosted family and friends.

He advised against attending large parties.

"If your plans are to go to a 40-50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Happy New Year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do that,” said Fauci.

The Minnesota Department of Health is urging residents to get tested for COVID-19 before gathering with others. The state’s community testing sites, however, will be closed on Friday and Saturday.

“Testing in advance of that [event] will reduce the risk of there being spread at these events,” said Dr. Beth Thielen, an adult and pediatric infectious diseases physician for the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview. “It doesn’t eliminate it but it can reduce that risk.”

She suggests taking multiple COVID tests in the days leading up to a New Year’s Eve gathering.

“Serial testing is part of the recommended practice, particularly for the antigen tests,” she said. “The goal is to try to get the testing is as close to the timing of events as possible. […] I certainly would encourage people to test the day of the event.”

The type of gathering someone chooses to attend should depend on their individual risk level and tolerance for COVID if they become infected, according to Dr. Thielen.

She said all events, including those with a vaccine mandate, carry a risk for COVID exposure due to the current spread of the virus in Minnesota.

“That gives me pause if folks have household members who may be immunocompromised, or young children or people who may not be able to respond to the vaccine or people whose occupations what would make it a problem for them if they had to go to work,” she said. “I think the best-case scenario if people do choose to attend an event, is that everyone ideally would be vaccinated and they received appropriate booster doses and still wearing masks indoors as appropriate.”

An N95 mask will provide the best protection. Dr. Thielen said while that’s the optimal choice, she encourages people to wear a tight-fitting mask that is comfortable.

“It’s really thinking about, what I hope is, our larger community right now,” she said. “Knowing that our health systems are very strapped and […] thinking about how to keep the community cases down will allow us to get through this.”

The spread of COVID-19 is already leading to cancellations.

First Avenue is no longer holding its New Year’s Eve Danceteria. The Suburbs concert at Palace Theater scheduled for Dec. 31 has been moved to February. The New Year’s Eve “You Outta Know 90s vs 00s” party at First Line has also been postponed.

Spokesperson Ashley Ryan told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “First Avenue is moving and rescheduling some events this week and next, and we’re adjusting on a case-by-case basis as we have continued to all along. We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, boosted, and mask up, so we can continue to host the best live music and events in 2022 and beyond!”

Can Can Wonderland in Saint Paul has also canceled its New Year’s Eve Party.

“We’ve been watching Omicron, we’ve been watching the surges, we’ve been watching what other people do and we felt like it was better for the safety of our staff, our guests our vendors and to just keep Can Can a safe place, ” said Tony Perella, the director of operations.

He described it as a pre-emptive measure after a couple of cases among the fully vaccinated staff.

“Following the new CDC guidelines of five days, let’s close for seven days and let everybody take a chance to get some rest, get their booster shot if they haven’t,” said Perella. “It’s always heartbreaking. We love to support our artists, we love to support our community and have these events and these shows but doing the right thing totally is more important than having one big blowout.”

Other businesses are hosting scaled-down events this year.

David Fhima, the chef and owner of Fhima’s Minneapolis, described the disco night they designed to honor the building’s nightclub past.

“It started with so much excitement,” he said. “This COVID thing hit again and again and a lot of people are concerned, probably rightfully so, but we have great plans.”

He explained they are hosting an extravert dinner, served by a fully vaccinated staff, with precautions in place.

“We are not seating as many people as we would normally seat,” said Fhima. “We’re not allowing a dance floor. It’s going to be great music in the background, sort of move and shake in your space.”

Champagne will be poured at each individual table at midnight.

“Not the grand champagne tower that we do in the years [past], ” he said. “I want to toast to the New Year, I want to feel a little bit normal and I want to do it in an environment that’s safe.”