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Safe Santa: Holiday Tradition Gets Pandemic Makeover

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The coronavirus pandemic has already canceled a number of holiday traditions, but there's one that is still happening — even if it looks a little different this year.

For Stephanie Stocking's two boys, Berkeley and Oliver, that meant sitting on a bench in front of Santa separated by a row of presents at a San Diego mall.

"Santa wore a mask, the kids wore masks and they were able to walk up and talk to him with six foot distance," she said.

Other Santas are offering in-person visits with children separated from the man in red by a plastic shield.

"What we're calling them is 'safe Santas,'" Mitch Allen, whose company has been hiring out Santas for a decade, said.

He said in the spring, as COVID-19 cases began to climb, his business — usually flooded with contracts for the winter months — suddenly ground to a halt.

"So we were really wondering, you know, is there going to be a Christmas this year," he said.

But, by the summer, he began to rethink how they were going to protect Santas in the field.

"As you might recognize, Santas are in a high-risk group for negative outcomes if they get COVID," Allen said.

He said his Santas now use shields, practice social distancing and hold virtual visits. But, despite the precautions, he said he was still worried about what this most recent surge in COVID-19 cases will do so close to Christmas.

"So many of our big retailers are still subject to being shut down, so if they get shut down, then the Santa portion of that is also shut down," he said.

As for Stocking, she said seeing Santa, even from a distance, lifted their spirits during what's been a challenging few months.

"Our main hope was just for them to see him and talk to him and they got to do that," she said.

Locally, parents can make a reservation to see Santa at the Bass Pro Shop in Rancho Cucamonga or at the Glendale Galleria where they were offering outdoor visits.

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