As the Lunar New Year begins Friday and those celebrating get ready to usher in the year of the ox, Santa Clara County officials and local Vietnamese leaders are urging residents to shift how they celebrate.

“Here at the Grand Century Mall, the site of so many Lunar New Year celebrations over the past years, we are here to say Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (happy new year in Vietnamese),” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. “And to please celebrate this Lunar New Year safely.”

Celebrating safely means avoiding celebrations with those outside of one’s household, avoiding indoor gatherings and wearing a mask, “or better yet two masks,” Cody said.

Lunar New Year, also known as Tet, is one of the most important celebrations in Vietnamese culture.

“This sacrifice, even though I know is extremely difficult for us, will afford us the opportunity for many more years in the future to celebrate together.”

Dr. Phuong Nguyen, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

In Santa Clara County, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam, extravagant festivities normally take place all over San Jose. Fireworks, tasty treats, little red envelopes and large crowds mark the occasion.

So officials recognize that requesting residents to stay at home and tune into celebrations online is a big ask.

“As a Vietnamese American physician, Tet is extremely important to me and my family. It’s a time of celebration together with family,” said Dr. Phuong Nguyen, chief medical officer at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

But Nguyen, along with other local leaders, said shifting the way people celebrate Tet this year is nonetheless a necessity.

“This sacrifice, even though I know is extremely difficult for us, will afford us the opportunity for many more years in the future to celebrate together,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said she has seen firsthand the devastating impacts COVID-19 has had on patients and family members, especially in the Vietnamese community, which has been disproportionally affected.

In Santa Clara, Vietnamese Americans made up 28 percent of COVID-19 cases among Asian Americans between June 1 and Dec. 3, yet they make up 19 percent of the population of Asian Americans in the county, according to the county’s public health department.

The county has seen a steady decrease in case counts, hospitalizations and deaths, but major holidays have subsequently resulted in COVID-19 spikes.

“We saw a spike after Thanksgiving, we saw a spike after Christmas, and we do not want to see a spike after Lunar New Year,” Betty Duong, County Public Information Officer said.

Officials said progress in vaccination and the decrease in coronavirus cases do not mean the county is immune from another spike.

Santa Clara County will be holding a virtual celebration on Friday. Those interested can call Supervisor Cindy Chavez’s office at 408-930-9543 to get the access link.