Many New Year’s Eve celebrations are still a go despite COVID-19 cases surging across the country.
In Northeast Florida, massive fireworks shows are scheduled to ring in the new year in downtown Jacksonville and St. Augustine Beach.
COVID-19 prompted changes to some of those plans. There will no longer be a festival packed with food trucks and performers at Pier Park at St. Augustine Beach.
“We’re happy now, even more so that we decided to go in this direction given the new variant and given that the cases are going up right now,” said city of St. Augustine Beach spokesperson Melinda Conlon.
Fireworks will still launch from the pier at 8:30 p.m. Friday, but this year’s event will be more spread out. The city wants people to instead eat and shop at local businesses and to watch the show from one of three spots along A1A — the St. Johns County Ocean Pier, on A Street and on 10th Street.
“We wanted to make sure we were socially responsible,” Conlon said. “We really wanted to provide something still really special to the community and visitors but mainly also really support local businesses.”
In downtown Jacksonville, the public is invited to watch the midnight fireworks display along the St. Johns River. On Friday, Rutgers and Wake Forest are also set to face off in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl as long as they aren’t impacted by COVID-19.
“They’re good to go right now. We’re counting down the clock. We know if they leave the hotel Friday morning, they’ll be ready to play,” said Gator Bowl President Greg McGarity.
McGarity expects 30,000 fans to pack TIAA Bank Field. News4JAX asked him about concerns about having a large gathering like this.
“I think people can use their own judgment,” McGarity said. “You know, we’ve been in a refund mode ever since the announcement was made with Texas A&M not participating.”
Rutgers answered the call for a last-second invitation to the bowl game after Texas A&M withdrew from the game, citing not enough healthy players due to opt-outs, COVID-19 cases and athletes entering the transfer portal.
McGarity said fans have the option to get a refund, donate the price of their ticket or put that money toward next year’s game.