Coronavirus

Party On: City of Miami Pushes Ahead With Bayfront Park New Year's Eve Fest Despite Omicron Surge

The New Year's Eve party at Bayfront Park is still a go, despite a COVID-19 surge and the withdrawal of one of the performers.
The New Year's Eve party at Bayfront Park is still a go, despite a COVID-19 surge and the withdrawal of one of the performers. Photo courtesy of Bayfront Park Management Trust/Graphic via Canva
A steep spike in COVID-19 cases is sweeping the nation, upending New Year's Eve plans in major cities โ€” but not Miami, where City Commissioner Joe Carollo is pushing ahead with a party, pandemic be damned.

The City of Miami's New Year's Eve party in Bayfront Park is moving forward despite a surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant, warnings from health experts, and online criticism from residents. Carollo, chairman of the Bayfront Park Management Trust board and organizer of the event, claims in a press release that the city's party is safe, citing Miami's high vaccination rates and an abundance of disinfection stations.
"Dozens of stations will be available for disinfection and hand washing, and we will give away masks to those who request them and while they last," the release quoted Carollo as saying.

One musical artist who was on the bill to perform at the party, Latin Billboard Award winner Noelia (real name Noelia Lorenzo), tells New Times she backed out of the event because she sees it as irresponsible, adding that Carollo wanted her to keep quiet.

"I understand people need entertainment, but at the same time, we should not encourage mass gatherings where people could get infected. It's very irresponsible to have this event during this Omicron spread," the Puerto Rican pop star tells New Times in a phone interview.

Noelia says she was asked to perform at the event back in November and agreed. But when the Omicron surge ticked up in December and after one of her friends died of COVID-19 and two others were hospitalized, the artist canceled her appearance last Friday.

The singer says Carollo and his wife, Marjorie, whom she's friends with, sent a mutual friend to speak with her managers and implore her not to ruin the event by speaking out.

"They sent a friend to tell me to say that I was sick and that's why I canceled. They sent her to ask us not to sabotage the event. She said she was sent by the Carollos," Noelia says. "I'm speaking out because it's what I have to do. Everyone knows me and that I'm responsible. I canceled my shows last year because of COVID."

Moreover, Noelia says Marjorie Carollo โ€” who is not listed as a city employee nor a member of the Bayfront Park Management Trust โ€” is producing the event and that she and her husband are pushing to hold the bash "no matter what." Miami's most iconic New Year's Eve tradition โ€” the Big Orange countdown at the Hotel InterContinental downtown โ€” was canceled for the second year in a row after the crew that operates the display all tested positive for COVID-19.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Commissioner Carollo fell silent when New Times asked directly to comment about Noelia's version of events. Carollo did not respond to a follow-up text message and emails to his work and personal email addresses requesting comment.

Carollo's spouse was linked with city business in March of this year, when the local news blog Political Cortadito reported that an art vendor sent a proposal for a $1 million art project for Bayfront Park to Marjorie and Joe Carollo's personal email addresses, instead of to the Bayfront Park Management Trust. The proposal was accepted without putting the project out for bid, leading one of the trust's nine members to resign in protest.

Even as this year's Bayfront New Year's Eve party was still set to go as of this morning, other large events are reporting the spread of COVID-19 among attendees. This week, Puerto Rico reported more than 2,000 positive cases after Bad Bunny played two concert dates there on December 10 and 11, despite the fact that the artist emphasized COVID safety.

The Omicron variant has been found to cause higher numbers of breakthrough cases among those who've been vaccinated and boosted than past variants, though cases among the immunized tend to be less severe than those in people who are unvaccinated.

Dr. Aileen Marty, a distinguished professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University and a COVID-19 advisor to Miami and Miami-Dade County, tells New Times that experts still don't know whether it's safe for fully vaccinated and boosted people to expose themselves to the virus, because they're unsure whether exposure might allow the virus to mutate into something more dangerous.

Marty says people considering attending large gatherings like the New Year's Eve event in Bayfront Park should consider their own safety and the safety of those at home who may not be vaccinated or who may be more vulnerable.

"If you do the risky thing where you bring the virus back to someone in your bubble who can end up in the hospital, are you making the right choice?" Marty asks rhetorically. "It's not just about yourself. It's about the people you love."

Marty says she has not yet spoken with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez about the city's New Year's Eve event, as many members of the COVID-19 advisory group have been on vacation. She says the group is scheduled to meet with county leaders on Monday, after the holiday.

Noelia, meanwhile, encourages her fans to get vaccinated and avoid large gatherings like the party she opted to back out of.

"It's very irresponsible to be gathering right now. Everyone needs the vaccine and to get boosted, and it's very important not to do these kinds of events yet," says the singer.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos