BENTONVILLE, Ark. - With COVID-19 cases surging in states across the U.S., some retailers that traditionally have welcomed children in person for a visit with Santa Claus have opted to schedule virtual visits ahead of Christmas.
Sam’s Club announced that members can book a free personal live session with Santa and take a photo with him. The membership-only retailer said families can choose from a diverse group of Santa’s and provide details about each child to further personalize the experience.
The virtual sessions with Santa at the North Pole will be available through Dec. 20, but must be scheduled online. Sam’s Club said there is a limit of one Santa visit per membership, but multiple children can attend the Zoom session.
Sam’s Club members are able to book a free live chat with Santa Claus from the North Pole through Dec. 20, 2020, the company said. (Photo credit: Provided / Sam’s Club)
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, jolly ol’ Saint Nick has had to adjust his plans this year. Malls that are allowing in-person visits with Santa Claus are taking extra precautions, including banning kids from sitting on his knee.
In some cases, children will tell Santa what they want for Christmas from 6 feet away, and sometimes from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Santa and his visitors may need to wear a face mask, even while posing for photos.
Some malls are putting faux gift boxes and other decorations in front of Saint Nick to block kids from charging toward him.
Other safety measures include online reservations to cut down on lines, workers wiping down holiday-decorated sets, and hand sanitizer aplenty. Santa’s hours are also getting cut to give him a break from crowds.
Children can also rest easy knowing that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will track Santa’s journey on Dec. 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be fewer volunteers working the call center for children to call in and inquire about Santa’s whereabouts.
Callers who cannot reach one of the volunteers at the toll-free number (1-877-Hi-NORAD) will receive a recorded update on Santa's current location, the organization said.
“While NORAD understands the call center is an important tradition for many families around the world, we reduce the health risks posed by attempting to conduct a large indoor, in-person, call center during the pandemic. NORAD is committed to tracking Santa while keeping our military, their families, and our dedicated call center volunteers safe,” NORAD said.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.