St. Nick, a superspreader? How visits with Santa led to COVID-19 outbreaks, quarantines

Korin Miller
·5 min read

Some people who have visited Santa this year have left with more than happy memories — they’ve also possibly contracted COVID-19.

Reports are coming in from around the world of people testing positive for the coronavirus after spending time with St. Nick.

Local officials in Long County, Ga., are warning families of the approximately 50 children who had their picture take with Santa and Mrs. Claus after the annual Christmas parade in Ludowici on Dec. 10 that they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Reports are coming in from around the world of people testing positive for COVID-19 after spending time with Santa. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)
Reports are coming in from around the world of people testing positive for COVID-19 after spending time with Santa. (Chandan Khanna/AFP)

“It has now been brought to the attention of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as my office, that after the event both ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ were tested for the COVID-19 virus and both received positive test results,” Robert D. Parker, chairman of the Long County Board of Commissioners, wrote in a statement online.

Parker pointed out that Santa and Mrs. Claus “were not displaying any symptoms at the time of the event” before adding, “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.”

In the statement, he asked families to follow proper CDC exposure guidelines if they were exposed and then said: “I do not feel this incident is cause for panic … 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.”

In Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a professional minor-league baseball team, canceled a planned holiday photo event at their field on Saturday after Mrs. Claus tested positive for COVID-19. “With the State of Pennsylvania’s quarantine rules, Mrs. Claus will need to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days, provided her symptoms subside and she does not have a fever for a period of 24 hours at the conclusion of the 10 days,” the team said in a news release. “Thankfully, she’ll be able to return to work well before Christmas Eve. The IronPigs wish her well during her recovery.”

The team also reminded “everyone to stay healthy this holiday season. If it can happen to Mrs. Claus, it can happen to anyone.”

In Belgium, 75 residents and staff members of a nursing home were infected with COVID-19 after Santa Claus paid a visit. Santa, who was the son of one of the residents, was one of the first to show symptoms of the virus after his visit to the Hemelrijck care home in Mol during the first weekend in December. He was followed by 61 residents of the nursing home and 14 staff, public officials told VRT, the national public-service broadcaster for the Flemish community of Belgium. Staff originally insisted that Santa wear a mask and follow safety protocols, but photos from the meet and greet tell another story, VRT says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourages traditional holiday visits with Santa, instead recommending that people schedule a virtual visit to the North Pole, visit Santa outside while wearing a mask and staying six feet apart or seeing Santa through a plexiglass safety window.

Many Santas are taking precautions too, sticking to virtual visits and drive-through events and even hanging out in a protective “igloo” with clear plastic sides.

But infectious disease experts are concerned that some people continue to visit with Santa as usual.

Dr. Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, N.Y., tells Yahoo Life that visits with Santa have the potential to become a “superspreader event,” adding, “I would avoid events like that this year.” Fernando acknowledges that kids have the potential to be exposed to asymptomatic adults in other ways, “but sitting and hugging, for me, poses a higher risk.”

Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life that people should consider that, despite the familiar red suit, “Santa” is really someone they don’t know. And, with that, they’re exposing their families to someone whose interactions and exposures they know little to nothing about. “Don’t visit a stranger dressed like Santa,” he advises.

Traditional visits to Santa have the potential to cause more harm than just to families who visit him: It can also lead to an increased spread in extended families, schools and communities, Dr. Lawrence C. Kleinman, survey/data core director at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. “If, in fact, you or your family members get an infection — which you may not know — then you would be at risk to spread it,” he says. “If you become symptomatic, you are most infectious in the day or two before you show symptoms. That’s why this virus is so hard to combat.”

Kleinman recommends that families consider new or modified traditions this holiday season. “More generally, all congregating activities where people get together have some level of risk,” he says. “People have to make a decision about the risk, but this is not a year to be gathering in general.”

Lawrence recommends that people keep this in mind: “It may be a very dark winter, and it is certainly unfortunate that it’s happening around the holidays, but a visit with Santa is one of those things that people should consider sacrificing for their own health and the health of the greater good.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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