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Authorities bust large New Year's Eve parties as coronavirus cases rise across U.S.

Law enforcement authorities in New York and Los Angeles reported breaking up large crowds of people gathered at New Year's Eve parties to ring in 2021.
Image: r m
Travelers pass through the south security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport on Dec. 31, 2020.David Zalubowski / AP

Authorities busted massive New Year's Eve parties in multiple cities and the Transportation Security Administration announced a record for air travel even as coronavirus case counts have soared across the U.S.

Local law enforcement authorities in New York and Los Angeles reported breaking up large crowds of people gathered at New Year's Eve parties to ring in 2021.

An hour after the ball dropped over a deserted Times Square, the New York City Sheriff raided an "illegal bottle club" in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, ejecting 145 attendees and charging four, and an hour later, they shut down another in Queens, where over 300 people were found gathered in apparent violation of emergency orders, charging five people with multiple offenses.

The Los Angeles Sheriff said in a Facebook post that 90 people were arrested and over 900 people were warned for breaking California's coronavirus rules at large gatherings they shut down in Hawthorne, LA, Malibu and Pomona on the last night of 2020.

The sheriff said his office would "seek out and take law enforcement action against all super spreader events occurring anywhere within Los Angeles County."

Social media users have also exposed large crowds in other cities.

Near Houston on New Year's Day, Snapchat's "Map" feature showed a large indoor venue with maskless patrons, close to where a LGBTQ-oriented New Year's party called "Nuclear Neon" was advertised.

Social media users across Miami shared videos of crowds gathering without masks after the New Year's holiday around pools and in lines outside venues.

The images were shared just days after Florida health authorities reported that a new coronavirus variant, thought to be more transmissible, had been detected in the state. According to Covid-19 case tracking by NBC News, Florida surpassed a July peak of cases counted in one day with 17,192 positive tests reported on New Year's Eve.

Two days later, on Jan. 2, the state broke its own record again and counted 31,518 positive cases.

Although Florida's Jan. 2 count included cases from the Jan. 1 holiday, it still outstripped recent post-holiday data dumps that contained two days' worth of data: Nov. 27 (17,344 cases) and Dec. 26 (17,042 cases).

Omari Hardy, who represents Palm Beach in the Florida House of Representatives, called for local officials to shut down the Mar-A-Lago club owned by President Donald Trump over apparent violations of Covid-19 safety guidelines at a New Year's Eve party where Vanilla Ice performed his hit 1989 song, "Ice, Ice, Baby" and few patrons wore masks, reported NBC affiliate WPTV.

In a post containing a video of the party shared by Donald Trump Jr., Hardy said his constituents are "going to have to deal [with] the consequences of a potential super-spreader party at Mar-a-Lago long after [Donald Trump Jr.] & wife leave here on their private jet."

"Mar-a-Lago is a club. A club is a business. Businesses must abide by Palm Beach County's mask order, or be fined or even shut down. We knew that Trump was hosting a New Year's party," Hardy said, adding that he would reach out to the Palm Beach County government to ask "why we weren't ready to enforce the mandate here."

Amid all the reveling, record numbers of travelers flocked to airports around the New Year's holiday.

The Transportation Security Administration announced that 1,327,289 people were screened for air travel on Sunday, marking Jan. 3, 2021 as the busiest air travel day in the U.S. since the pandemic began in 2020.

"It was the highest checkpoint volume since the pandemic hit," Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokesperson, said Monday on Twitter. "It was also the 8th of the last 12 days and 11th of the last 16 days that throughout topped 1 million."

Farbstein suggested that because the Sunday after the Christmas-New Year holiday is often one of the busiest travel days, there's reason to believe travel will remain high this week: "In previous years, many travelers have delayed their return home to the Monday or Tuesday after this two-week holiday period in an effort to avoid crowds and typically find a lower airfare on a weekday," Farbstein wrote.

The record-breaking number of travelers came as states report new highs in coronavirus case counts just as they also report they are detecting a new, more contagious variant in residents with no travel history.