Madelaine Conkey sits behind the plexiglass and tells Santa what she wishes for Christmas. Logan, Ohio. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].

Santa During COVID-19: Plexiglass and Social Distancing Did Not Keep Kids From Smiling

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — An unprecedented year yielded an unprecedented Christmas. No big reunions, not a lot of traveling and no Santa interacting with the kids. Ohio has seen more than seven hundred thousand people get COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, nine months ago, and more than eight thousand died. Nearly all of the state of Ohio is under a LEVEL 3 public emergency code, which means “very high exposure and spread.”

Governor Dewine announced that vaccination for Ohioans will begin around mid-January 2021. But social distancing and safety measures remain in place, specially after a new strain of the virus (“SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01”), that is deemed to be more contagious, has been recently found in Europe.

The holidays have been especially hard for the younger ones, who were seeing how one of their favorite traditions was up on the air: visiting Santa, sitting on his lap and telling him what they wished for. Coronavirus had most every holiday public event canceled, so things needed to get creative.

In Nelsonville, for instance, the fire department had to cancel its annual Christmas event, but that did not deter Fire Chief Harry Barber and his team from bringing Nelsonville children some needed joy.

Nelsonville families go outside their homes to greet social distancing Santa during COVID-19 times parade. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
“We do a toy give away every year for Christmas and because of COVID this year we were not going to be able to have Santa Claus there to interact with the children.”

It was 28 degrees outside with a Level 2 Snow Emergency alert. Roadways were slippery and snow was blowing and drifting, but there was a commitment to the community.

Kids were already waiting for Santa that had been announced to be visiting the neighborhoods in his sled pulled, not by reindeers, by but firetrucks.

“What a better idea than to have Santa Claus come to everybody that we could in the community. This way, everybody could stay in their homes, be safe and see Santa Claus,” said a smiling chief Santa.

Families outside their homes in the five thousand plus population city of Nelsonville took on the freezing streets with their little ones to greet Santa’s social distancing parade. Vicky Barron stood outside their home in Nelsonville with her three grandsons.

Harry Barber has been Nelsonville Fire Chief since 2014 but it is the first time he had to be Santa during a pandemic. He and his team got creative [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
The 3 fire engine trucks sound their alarm to announce the neighbors that Santa is there, riding his red sled pulled by a red fire truck and accompanied by a dalmatian puppet mascot.

“I’m glad they had something for the kids,” said Barron, looking at the kids, who were well aware of why Santa was not sitting in his usual bench this year but waving from a distance.

Nelsonville brothers said hello to social distancing Santa. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
“Because it’s six feet and he won’t get coronavirus,” said the 8 year old,” the 10 year old replied, “So he can stay social distance so he don’t get COVID “ while the 5 year-old screamed “I don’t know!”

The 10 year old said he hated it like this, the 8 year-old said he liked it rather than nothing and the 5 year-old just looked confused.

A block away from them, two families were standing by a corner with their kids in strollers are enjoying the parade. Emily said that “the covid thing is hard for the kids to seat down and see Santa” and that her 3 year-old did not understand why was this year different, “she has autism.”

Homer said “it’s just difficult because you can’t do a lot of activities like you could last year and it just impacts because you’re worried about your kids getting sick.” Kids say hi to Santa strolling down the street amidst the snow.


But the Santa parade was not only a breath of fresh air to kids, adults also joined the kids on the streets to see Santa and waive back at him. Chief Barber and Santa said, “we actually got to see a lot of the elderly in the community that are quarantined because of COVID now, we interact with a lot of them through their windows tonight. I think that was a big morale booster for those individuals in the community.”

Inside Santa’s House

Twelve miles north from there, in Logan, Santa had to adapt his house to greet kids who wanted to see and talk to him. In Worthington Park the small Santa trailer has new rules. A street sign that says North Pole greets the families stating in red letters: “DO NOT ENTER if you have any COVID-19 symptoms! Stay 6 feet apart and only one household at the time can enter.

The COVID-19 sign outside Santa’s House in Lohan, Ohio. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
One of Santa’s elves outside take temperature to each family member and asks them if they have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the last two weeks.

She also tells them masks are required “then we offer hand sanitizer, we disinfect after each visit, so that includes wiping on all the door handles, sanitizing the bench that is in there for the guests to sit on to see Santa and the other door that they use to leave.”

The Williams family goes in. Mom, Dad, 1 year old Audrey, 10 year old Madeleine and 3 year-old Orly, they come from Athens. They are all wearing masks.

In a 16 by 10 square feet space the parents stay behind while the kids approach the christmas decorated bench that is separated from Santa by a huge plexiglass that goes from floor to ceiling.

“Ho, ho, ho,” greets them Santa, each by their names. Orly seems to be the most interested in talking to Santa. He tells Santa he wants a truck, Santa jokes if this is the father’s wish. They laugh and stay for about 10 minutes until they say goodbye.

The beautiful Santa’s House run by the nonprofit Operation Santa in Logan. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
Mother Mandy says “the plexiglass it’s a bit different but it doesn’t make it difficult, just different.” She says even though there are less activities going on for the kids this time around, “as far as our home, everything is still cheery and wonderful.”

Santa, Robert Salizzoni, says he and his wife Teresa run the non-profit Operation Santa that has been serving the kids in the community for decades.

This time they had to ask the Hocking County Board of Health how to adapt the operation. “The goal with COVID I know is to get the numbers down and that’s what we’re trying to do, is keep some normalcy for the kids but as well as keep them safe as they’re coming in to visiting Santa”

Salizzoni says that they were open from December 5 to the 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. and had 20 to 50 kids per shift every night. “This has been tough for the kids too because normally they’re used to be be able to touch Santa, being around Santa”and also “because it’s affecting it’s affecting their own homes… they can’t have the big family gatherings like they used to.”

That is precisely what grandma Gail Larkin said about this pandemic Christmas with her granddaughter and only child Madeleine. “It’s really hard, I mean, we can’t get family together like we used to.” Madeleine, asked Santa for a baby sister. She says she’s doing online school but misses her friends.

Orly Williams stares at Santa behind the plexiglass installed for COVID-19 protection in Logan, Ohio. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB].
She did not expect the plexiglass between Santa and her but understood “is a barrier to keep us protected from Santa,” and also to protect Santa, adds her grandma “it’s two ways, you got to protect other people as well.”

Ultimately, it is what COVID-19 had taught us all this tough 2020, that we need to see and care for ourselves as much as for the others if we all want to remain safe and healthy. And Santa knows it.

Behind the transparent face shield and his thick white beard, Santa said goodbye and farewell to this 2020. Here’s a wish in everyone’s Santa list: hopefully, next Christmas will not be the same.