The subdued atmosphere caused by the pandemic on what is usually a giddy holiday was evident at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan on an unseasonably warm last day of 2021, as New Yorkers said goodbye to one difficult year and steeled themselves for another.
Many of those in the modest crowd perusing stands stocked with plants, vegetables, baked goods and other items did not appear overly concerned about the virus: At least half were not wearing masks, but were holding them in their hands or tucking them under their chins instead.
Still, their comments told a more nuanced story.
Bruce Perry, 72, of Coney Island, browsed the market’s offerings while heading to Paragon Sports on the square’s north side. The Omicron variant’s prevalence had dampened his New Year’s Eve mood.
“I’m a little depressed,” he said. “I’m tired of wearing this mask every day.”
He added that he had just started to feel comfortable being outside without it.
“But I know we got to wear it with everything going on,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to live with it.”
Mr. Perry, who is vaccinated and has gotten a booster shot, said he had been careful to avoid large crowds and had recently canceled a trip to Atlanta to visit his two daughters and three grandchildren.
“I’ll just have to wait,” he said. “I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want them to get sick.”
“Hopefully 2022 will be better,” he added. “It doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.”
George Martin was also on the square’s north side, playing Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” and “Maria” from West Side Story on his trumpet as a few passers-by dropped dollar bills in his small gray duffle bag while wishing him a Happy New Year.
A 71-year-old retiree who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and busks in the parks several days a week, Mr. Martin said he was sure 2022 would bring its share of problems, but that was no reason to stop living.
“There’s a lot of confusion right now about Omicron, but what are you going to do?” he said. “Lock yourself in your room? Life is too short.”
Soph Ehrlich, 27, a social worker, said they were weary of the pandemic and frustrated by how it had affected the poor families they work with.
Still, Mx. Ehrlich, who grew up on East 15th Street and now lives in Oakland, Calif., said the sense of community that had developed over the past 12 months was encouraging.
“I’m tired, but I don’t feel hopeless.” Mx. Erlich said. “I have trust in people to take care of one another.”
In Brooklyn, the mood was also muted outside Woodhull Hospital Center, a city-run facility straddling the Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods where the line to get a P.C.R. test ran along a fenced-in driveway.
Sulphina Bennett was among those who were waiting. Ms. Bennett, 39, said she had gotten sick with Covid-19 in January and had gotten vaccinated after that. So when a rapid test came back positive after she spent Christmas with her parents, she decided to get another opinion.
“I’m doing this just to make sure,” Ms. Bennett, wearing an overcoat and floral-print mask, said from her place near the front of the line. She said she had been waiting for 90 minutes.
Ms. Bennett said she felt like she had a mild cold. But she was not taking her symptoms lightly. A colleague died of Covid earlier in the pandemic, she said. Another had it now.
“It’s like all of us are getting it one by one,” she said.
The wait for tests was about 30 minutes at a city-run health clinic in a parking lot next to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in Fort Greene. Those who were waiting included Stacey Campbell, Adam Szlachetka and their 2-year-old daughter, Noa, who started prekindergarten in September.
“This is the first time she’s had to specifically test for school,” Ms. Campbell, 39, said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be regular but we did get an email saying, ‘Every child, get a test before coming back on the 4th.’”
She said that tests for herself and Mr. Szlachetka, 42, were precautionary.
“We’ve been lucky,” Ms. Campbell said. Both are vaccinated and neither has gotten the virus. But word that Ms. Campbell’s mother had been exposed to someone who was infected threw a scare into the family’s Christmas, setting off a frantic round of testing and online reading.
“We were waiting til the last minute to see if my mom could come for Christmas,” Ms. Campbell said. “We all made it. Her and her husband had to eat in the hallway.”
“Other than that,” she added with laugh, “we were all together.”
As for New Year’s plans, Ms. Campbell said, “We’re going to make a champagne cocktail and get tested and feel good about that. And hope for a better 2022.”
By 4 p.m., those intent on welcoming the new year at or near this year’s scaled-back version of the traditional Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration had begun to gather.
Several hundred people stood on the south side of police barricades at 38th Street and Seventh Avenue, waiting to enter the section where the festivities would be held or lingering to get a distant look as the night unfolded.