Santa Claus coming to town may have exposed dozens of children in Georgia to COVID-19 at a holiday celebration.
A couple who played Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at the Long County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Christmas parade on Dec. 10 tested positive two days later, according to a statement by Long County Board of Commissioners chairman Robert Parker. The event was held in Ludowici, located in South Georgia.
The parade, tree lighting and following ceremony were well attended and included about 50 children, including Parker's own children, who got their picture taken with Santa, according to the statement.
"While this is cause for concern, I feel that it is important to note that exposures happen every day as we go about our day to day lives, often without any knowledge," Parker wrote in the statement. "Children are in close contact with both other children and adults daily at school, rec functions, and church. Proper CDC exposure guidelines should be followed if your child was exposed, however I do not feel this incident is cause for panic."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person with COVID-19.
The Long County school system requested parents keep any children who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to Santa and Mrs. Claus home until after winter break.
Long County Schools wrote in an announcement on Facebook on Dec. 9 that they are experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases and are now providing a remote learning option to allow students to stay at home until after the holidays. The school will remain open until Dec. 18 before closing for winter break, according to the announcement.
The United States passed the grim milestone on Monday of more than 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic and has been setting daily records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Georgia has had 546,020 cases and 10,104 deaths during the pandemic, according to a tally by NBC News.
Parker defended the decision to hold the large public event during the pandemic.
"While this event was not put on by the City of Ludowici or the Long County Board of Commissioners, it was well attended by our public officials and I believe I speak for the majority of them in saying that we still stand by the decision of the Chamber to move forward with these holiday traditions and to bring some sense of normalcy to these trying times," he said.
The couple, whose names were not released, were not showing symptoms on the day of the event, according to Parker's statement.
"I want to further emphasize that no children were forced to attend the events and that choice was left solely in the hands their parents," Parker said. "I have personally known both 'Santa' and 'Mrs. Claus' my entire life and I can assure everyone that they would have never knowingly done anything to place any children in danger. They have both filled these roles for many years, and bringing joy to children during the holidays is one of the most important parts of their lives.
"Without them filling these roles locally, I know there are countless underprivileged children who would never have experienced the joy of meeting Santa Claus. My family and the community are praying for a speedy recovery for the 'Clauses', and are looking forward to many more years of the joy they bring to our county."