New Year's Eve gatherings could accelerate COVID-19 spread: "We cannot let our guard down"

Health officials fear COVID spread from NYE
Health officials fear COVID spread from NYE 03:40

With New Year's Eve just one day away, health officials are sounding the alarm about large gatherings to ring in 2021. Their warnings come as the famous ball drop in New York's Times Square and many other big celebrations will be virtual this year.

But gatherings at home and other places could accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

"It's very important to avoid large gatherings and small gatherings, and as we approach New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, we cannot let our guard down," Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine warned.

According to AAA, as many as 84.5 million Americans were expected to travel from December 23 to January 3 to celebrate the holidays and the New Year.

"It would be magical thinking to think we're not going to see a bump after all this travel around the holiday season with Christmas and New Year's," CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook said.

LaPook is among many health officials concerned about large gatherings violating coronavirus protocols. And testing negative for COVID-19 doesn't make gatherings safe, LaPook said.

"The biggest misconception of this pandemic — and there's not even a close second — is that 'I got tested today and therefore I'm safe tomorrow or the next day.' Remember that the incubation period is 2 to 14 days," he said.

Law enforcement is already tamping down on large gatherings. In Newark, New Jersey, this weekend, two women were arrested for hosting 200 people at a makeshift indoor bar at a warehouse.

At the famous La Scala restaurant in Beverly Hills, California, customers reported an upcoming New Year's Eve secret indoor party to authorities. On Tuesday, the restaurant responded to backlash, writing that its invitation was misunderstood and that they "have consistently taken the most drastic steps to ensure guest and employee safety." 

But invitations like one promoting a party in San Francisco are common across the United States.

San Francisco police are warning of penalties for those breaking the state's rules.  

"We're very concerned," Robert Rueca, the department's public information officer, told CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste. "The protocol has been to admonish someone or admonish people, giving them a warning at first. Sometimes, there isn't that chance to admonish someone, and we will issue a citation."