A ‘safe’ New Year’s Eve means no drunk driving but also keeping your distance

New Year’s Eve in downtown Orlando will look different this year due to the pandemic

ORLANDO, Fla. – As they do every year, Orlando Police want people to be safe as they ring in 2021, not just on the road but also staying safe from the virus.

Officers don’t anticipate big crowds as they have in other years, there will still be extra patrol units in Downtown Orlando on Thursday night.

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Orlando police will also be visiting local businesses to remind them of COVID-19 safety regulations that are still in place including wearing masks and social distancing.

The department collaborated with the Orange County business Strike Team to make sure businesses are doing everything they can to try and keep people safe on New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve been going to all the businesses that are downtown all the bars and nightclubs that will be open tonight. Restaurants. We’ve been stressing them the importance of wearing masks and social distancing and we will be out there basically to make sure everyone stays safe,” OPD Deputy Chief Eric Smith said.

Aaron Dudek owns The Lodge, The Woods, and Burton’s in Thornton Park.

“New Year’s Eve is no different for us,” he said. “We’re spending a ton of money on gloves and sanitizer as our sales have gone down.”

The example everyone wants to avoid: Halloween. Local leaders allowed outdoor drinking in certain areas downtown. A one-time setup that ended up getting criticized for overcrowding outside.

“We’ll be nice and safe in here,” Dudek said. “I don’t know about outside on the streets. We can only allow so many people in. So those people that can’t get in wander around downtown and it makes downtown look unsafe.”

Earlier this week, Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer and other prominent leaders warned about the dangers of large crowds for New Year’s Eve.

“You really don’t need to celebrate New Year’s Eve the way you have in the past,” Dyer said.

“We’re very close to turning this around,” Dr. Raul Pino said. “Now is not the time to get more people infected.”

In a statement to News 6, Mayor Dyer added:

We continue to encourage our residents and businesses practice pandemic precautions - including the wearing of face coverings, socially distancing and practicing regular hygiene. Doing otherwise puts our community and others at unnecessary risk, both in individual health and the health of our economy.

Citizens can report potential safety issues at businesses to the Orange CountyBusiness Compliance or “Strike Teams” to visit these businesses and help them achieve compliance through the implementation of proper workplace guidelines and procedures as necessary. To report a business to the Orange County Business Compliance Teams, residents should call 311 or go toOCFL.net/311.

Additionally as customers, residents can decide where they do business. We encourage our residents if they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe at a certain places of businesses, that they do not patronize them.

Smith also stressed the importance of road safety pleading drivers not to drink and drive.

He said officers are ready to conduct traffic safety operations including DUI checkpoints.

“With all the opportunities and other ways of getting home like rideshare - there’s no reason to drink and drive we have zero tolerance for that we’ll be enforcing that,” Smith said.

Officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said they did not plan to implement DUI checkpoints but will have multiple units dedicated to DUI enforcement.

“We want to remind travelers to always buckle up, slow down, put the phone down and don’t drink and drive,” the Sheriff’s Office said in an email.

About the Author:

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!