They remember when the wooden sawhorses used to control crowds would splinter against the crush of humanity; now interlocking aluminum barriers are used. They remember when corks popped from Champagne bottles caused some safety concerns; that is, until 9/11, after which restrictions cracked down on the free flow of people and booze.
They have seen the numbers steadily grow, the crowds stretching up to 59th Street and beyond. And the night’s mood, Chief Hughes said, “reflects what the city is going through in that year.”
This year it will be small, contained, muted. “A closed set,” he said. “A virtual event.”
Last year, when a million or so people showed up, those interlocking barriers stretched from 38th Street to 59th Street, and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. This year, the barriers will run only from 41st to 49th Streets, and the few granted entrance to the stage area will be required to have tested negative for the virus.
Normally, several thousand officers work the night, a choice assignment because they get to interact with people from around the world in a setting of joy. This year, there will be an 80 percent reduction in the police complement, which still means many hundreds of officers working to keep people safe — and out.
“What’s going to happen at midnight?” Assistant Chief Hughes asked. “At midnight, everybody kisses. What are we going to do? Fist bump?”
The night’s touch of grace, though, is in the invitation to a few dozen frontline workers and their families. Among them was Ms. Erb, 44, a clinical research nurse who, for the last several months, has helped oversee trials for the Pfizer vaccine at the N.Y.U. Langone Vaccine Center.