Long County officials have informed residents that individuals performing as “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus” at a recent tree-lighting event tested positive for COVID-19, which potentially exposed dozens of children to the virus.
The parade and tree lighting were Dec. 10 in Ludowici, which is about 46 miles south of Savannah, according to a Long County Board of Commissioners news release. After the event, about 50 children took their picture with Santa, who was accompanied by Mrs. Claus. Long County Commissioners Chair Robert Parker said he was later informed that both received positive test results after the festivities.
“They were not displaying any symptoms at the time of the event,” Parker said in a 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. 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 Long County School System has asked parents to keep children who were exposed or show symptoms at home until after the new year. However, classes are not canceled for Long County students.
Parker said it is not known how many children and family members may have been exposed to the virus. The event was not sponsored by the city of Ludowici or the Long County Board of Commissioners, but it was well attended by public officials, according to the statement. The effort to host such a holiday event was to keep “some sense of normalcy to these trying times,” Parker said.
“My children both had their picture made with Santa, and their smiles were bigger than any day when they head off to school, where the same risk of exposure exist,” said Parker, adding the two people who tested positive had good intentions and would have not attended the event if they knew of their statuses.
“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,” Parker said in the statement. “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.”
The potential mass exposure involving children comes within days of several school systems opting to quarantine due to a rash of COVID-19 cases for staff and students. In South Georgia, more than 200 students and several staff members are quarantining through the end of the year after being exposed at Lowndes County schools and out in the community.
Lowndes, like other counties, has not decided to change its plans to have in-person classes next semester. Officials have opted to sanitize school buildings, wait out quarantines and then return to school buildings in January.