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New Year's Eve Countdown: Times Square Nearly Empty, Save For Select Frontline Workers And VIP Guests

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Times Square typically sees tens of thousands of people for New Year's Eve, but this year there are no crowded streets packed with spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, a select few were invited to watch the ball drop in person.

As CBS2's John Dias reported, Thursday's weather matched 2020 perfectly -- a gloomy day to end an even gloomier year. Most people he spoke to said 2021 can't come soon enough.

"Thank God it's over. Start fresh tomorrow," said Greg Mazza of Staten Island.

"Hopefully, it'll be a better year. We can stamp this virus out and get on with our lives," Tommy Casale, of Dyker Heights, added.

COUNTDOWN TO 2021: Organizers Test New Year's Eve Ball Drop In Times Square; NYPD Ready Regardless Of No Crowds

For almost 120 years, Times Square has been the center of worldwide attention on New Year's Eve. But this year, it's closed to the public to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"I grew up in Hell's Kitchen. This is surreal," said resident Jacqueline Vera. "I think this is the safe and smart thing to do. New Yorkers, let's just calm down one year."

The NYPD had about 80% fewer officers guarding the area than in past years, but security was still tight.

"If you come to Times Square, the police department will turn you away and tell you to go home and watch from the safety and comfort of your home," Times Square Alliance Vice President Tom Harris told CBS2.

Watch: NYPD Press Conference On New Year's Eve Preparations --

Before officers ramped up enforcing strict rules, those walking by took last-minute photos to document the day.

"It's part of history, I think. I mean, New Year's Eve, hopefully you're never going to see this again, Times Square like this," said Paul McKeon, of Hamilton, New Jersey.

Only select VIP guests and about 40 local frontline workers and their families were allowed. Each group watched the festivities from separate viewing areas.

"I'm really happy to be here as one of the select few who get to kick 2020 out the door," EMT Paul Nebb said.

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"Don't believe any 'Doubting Thomases' that say because there's not going to be a million people or more in Times Square, it's not going to be special. It's going to be actually, arguably, the most special," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. "We are going to be honoring our health care heroes, first responders and folks who did amazing work this year."

Musicians like Gloria Gaynor and Andra Day were lighting up the stage Thursday night, even though half the faces in the audience were on balloons.

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An ER doctor, school teacher, grocery store worker and pizza delivery person were among the people invited to watch in person.

They were chosen after submitting their stories of how they helped in 2020.

"This is like a dream come true for us, and we just can't wait to see the ball drop," New Jersey piano teacher Carol Porter told CBS2's Ali Bauman. "We just know if we just get through 2020, if we just power through, that 2021 is gonna be a much better year for us."

Chris Davlantes is an ER doctor at Lenox Health Greenwich Village.

"It's been a struggle. New Yorkers have been tough, and we're proud to be New Yorkers now," he said.

He and his wife moved to New York from Kansas at the height of the pandemic in March.

"Even my mom and dad were like, 'Don't work in the ER if you don't have to, you're gonna get exposed.' I said, 'Mom, this is why I went to medical school. I wanna help people. This is the most important time in my whole career to be an emergency physician,'" Davlantes said.

Shane Hathaway manages a restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.

"We're representing everyone in the Hell's Kitchen community, I guess you could say," he said.

MORE: De Blasio Says NYC Parents Should Be Ready 'As Early As Monday' For All-Remote Learning

Hathaway first spoke to CBS2 in November, distraught over how to stay in business through the end of the year. Now, he's ringing in 2021 in Times Square and still in business.

"It is an honor, but at the same time, it's another day to kind of be present in what you have and be appreciative of where you are in life, and we recognize that fully every day, that we are very fortunate to still be pushing through this," he said.

Street Closures Starting At Midnight On Dec. 31

· Area bounded by West 45th Street, on the South

· West 49th Street on the North

· 6th Avenue, on the East

· 8th Avenue on the West

Street Closures Starting At 3 P.M. On Dec. 31

· Area bounded by West 41st Street, on the South

· West 49th Street on the North

· 6th Avenue, on the East

CBS2's John Dias and Ali Bauman contributed to this report


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