A visit to Santa Claus — whether at the mall or a community celebration — is a familiar holiday tradition.
But the COVID-19 pandemic may make those visits more difficult in 2020.
Santa might still be present at malls and community events, but its unlikely children will be sitting on his lap.
Organizers of Santa visit events should take precautions to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Parents and guardians also should weigh whether to bring their children to see Santa.
Here are some important things to know about visiting Santa this holiday season.
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What Is the Risk of COVID-19 in Kids?
Children have been infected with the coronavirus in lower numbers than adults. They also appear to be at less risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But they still can get infected and spread the virus, even if they have no symptoms.
The number of children infected with COVID-19 has risen in the United States since early September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . The increase matches up with children returning to school and resuming other activities. Cases in children ages 12 to 17 were about double the number of cases reported in children ages 5 to 11, according to the CDC.
“The highest risk for transmission is in communities that have high rates of cases,” says Megan Culler Freeman, MD, PhD, a fellow in pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “But most communities have some degree of transmission and risk.
“Most instances of COVID-19 in children are milder than what is seen in adults. But the disease can be more severe and require hospitalization or treatment in an intensive care unit in a small number of children.”
Babies less than a year old and children with underlying health issues like asthma, diabetes, and heart conditions may be at higher risk of severe illness, according to the CDC.
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How Can I Keep My Child Safe While Visiting Santa During COVID-19?
“The highest risk for contracting COVID-19 is being indoors with large groups of people who are close to each other and unmasked,” says Dr. Freeman. “This describes the line to see Santa at the mall in a normal year.”
Dr. Freeman says visiting Santa in person this year carries at least some risk. That risk level depends on the precautions you and the event organizers take.
Bringing infants and children under age 2 to visit Santa in person is not advised, says Dr. Freeman. Children those ages cannot wear facemasks, a key factor in limiting coronavirus spread.
If you decide to bring children to visit Santa, here are some precautions you can take:
- Facemasks: Everyone over age 2 should wear cloth face coverings in public at all times. Masks should be worn properly, covering their mouth and nose for the duration of the event. “Children under two years old should not wear masks due to the suffocation risk,” says Dr. Freeman. “I would advise not taking them to see Santa this year.”
- Social distancing: Maintain at least six feet of social distance from anyone who is not a member of your household.
- Hand hygiene: Frequent handwashing is important to limit the spread of COVID-19. You and your children should wash your hands with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds before rinsing, before and after the event. If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Consider bringing hand sanitizer with you to use before and after your child’s visit with Santa.
How Can Establishments Keep Santa and Kids Safe Amid COVID-19?
Traditional in-person Santa visits — indoors, with large crowds — pose more of a risk of COVID-19 spread. People who play Santa may fall into a higher-risk group for COVID-19 complications, like older adults and people who are overweight.
Businesses or other groups hosting Santa visits should take steps to keep workers and families safe:
- No sitting on Santa’s lap: Close contact poses a high risk of coronavirus transmission. Instead of having children sit on Santa’s lap to take photos, consider alternatives — such as putting them in a sleigh, with six feet of distance.
- Consider the location: Because indoors is a higher-risk setting, organizers could consider hosting Santa visits outdoors. If that isn’t possible, they could attempt to increase ventilation in their indoor location.
- Facemasks: All attendees over age 2 and all employees should wear facemasks at all times — including Santa. Masks should be worn properly, covering their nose and mouth.
- Barriers: Plexiglass or other barriers can help keep distance between employees and attendees.
- Social distancing: Enforce six feet of social distancing between attendees and employees. Consider marking spots in line to indicate six feet.
- Surface cleaning: Chairs, sleighs, or other objects used as props for photos should be cleaned and sanitized after each use.
- Hand sanitizer: Make an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol available to people in line and employees.
- Virtual visits: Instead of in-person Santa visits, consider offering virtual visits — by phone or video.
- Scheduled visits: Avoid large numbers of people congregating in the same area for long periods of time. Set up a system to schedule visits with Santa.
Are There Safe Ways to Visit Santa During COVID-19?
Any in-person Santa visit this holiday season will have at least some risk of COVID-19 transmission. The holiday season may be different this year, but there are ways to see Santa safely.
Malls and other businesses are offering virtual visits with Santa. Consider talking to Santa over the phone or by video. And there’s nothing wrong with your child sending Santa a letter as they normally would.
“Each family should carefully consider whether the risk of an in-person Santa visit is worth the payoff,” says Dr. Freeman. “Maybe this is the year to write letters or emails to Santa, visit him virtually, or call him on the phone.”
For more information on COVID-19 from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, visit CHP.edu.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 in Children and Teens. Link
Rebecca T. Leeb, PhD, et al, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Report, COVID-19 Trends Among School-Aged Children — United States, March 1–September 19, 2020. Link
Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press, COVID-19 Cases Rising Among U.S. Children as Schools Reopen. Link
Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune, Santa Claus Mall Visits Will Be Different During the Pandemic. Here's How. Link
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.