LAS VEGAS — When Las Vegas is ready to move on, it typically does so in spectacular fashion, imploding old hotels to make way for new ones.
In that spirit, the city plans to usher in 2021 and close out a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic by imploding a "2020" sign.
The New Year's Eve display will be part of an online celebration at midnight and is Sin City's cathartic attempt to move on.
COVID-19 — blamed for more than 1.8 million deaths worldwide, including over 3,000 in Nevada — has wreaked havoc on the gambling mecca's tourist-dependent economy. The state's unemployment rate has been among the worst in the nation since the pandemic started and set an all-time record for any state when it topped 30% in April.
Typically, New Year's Eve is one of the biggest parties Las Vegas sees all year, with more than 330,000 revelers, almost all hotel rooms booked and hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into the local economy. In recent years, the night has been branded "America's Party," featuring live entertainment and concerts from big names like Lady Gaga and Journey, extravagant parties at nightclubs and bars, and a choreographed fireworks show launched from the roofs of casino-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.
But this year, New Year's Eve is scaled down.
The fireworks show has been canceled, replaced by the virtual celebration, implosion and pyrotechnic show that starts fifteen minutes before midnight on www.VisitLasVegas.com.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which is hosting the "Kiss Off 2020" event, stressed that the actual implosion at an undisclosed location in southern Nevada will not be open to the public and should be enjoyed virtually.
The organization is not estimating what visitor numbers or room occupancy will look like this New Year's Eve. Despite nightclubs being closed, most live entertainment canceled, casinos-resorts limited to 25% capacity and public gatherings capped at 50 people, thousands are still expected to celebrate.
Las Vegas police said this week that they're guessing as many as 200,000 people may turn out Thursday.
Gov. Steve Sisolak urged people to reconsider their plans to go out and celebrate virtually with members of their own household instead as the state grapples with a surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"It's not lost on me that Las Vegas is known for being one of the best places in the world to ring in the new year, but this year must look different," Sisolak said in a statement.
Health officials also are encouraging people to stay home, saying anyone who holds a gathering should try to do so outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces, with masks worn at all times and guests staying 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
The only fireworks show that's scheduled in the Las Vegas area is set to be fired off from the Plaza casino-hotel downtown.
Traffic will be closed on the Las Vegas Strip by 8 p.m. for security reasons, a concern that's been sharpened since the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville.
Police say they plan to staff New Year's like any other year, with more than 1,200 officers on the Strip and 200 in the downtown Fremont Street entertainment district, in addition to officers on duty throughout the city.
The Fremont Street Experience, a downtown casino-mall, initially planned to charge up to 14,000 guests $25 each to walk its six-block corridor on New Year's Eve. The plans sparked pushback from state and county officials, who said such a large gathering could risk spreading the virus and overwhelming hospitals.
Organizers took tickets offline Wednesday evening and announced Thursday that they would restrict access to the public and only allow guests of surrounding hotels on the street after 6 p.m.
The mall's public relations representative, Cassandra Downs, said the last-minute decision was made in consultation with health officials and that anyone who had purchased a ticket would be refunded.