A Georgia couple who dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus for an outdoor photo session that was attended by about 50 children last week tested positive for the coronavirus two days after the event, the county’s top elected official said Tuesday.
The event was Thursday and was part of an annual Christmas parade and tree-lighting ceremony in Ludowici, Georgia, about 235 miles southeast of Atlanta, said Robert D. Parker, the chairman of the Long County board of commissioners.
The couple wore masks during the event at a local pavilion, Parker said, but many of the children who posed for photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus did not have face coverings, including Parker’s two children. Parker said that his children did not sit on Santa’s lap, but that he did not know whether any of the other children did.
Parker said that the couple, county residents whose names have not been made public, developed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, after the event and were tested Saturday. The couple notified county officials Sunday that they had tested positive for the virus, he said.
“They’re good folks,” Parker said. “They would never knowingly put anybody in danger.”
The event was organized by the Long County Chamber of Commerce, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
County officials advised the children who were in contact with the couple to quarantine for 14 days and to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people who might have been exposed to the virus.
Some of the children who attended the event went to school Friday before the couple was tested for the virus, according to Parker, who said that the county had not recommended testing for the children who might have been exposed. He said he did not know whether contact tracing had been conducted.
Parker said that his children had not shown any symptoms.
Since the county disclosed that Santa and Mrs. Claus had contracted the virus, Parker said he had faced criticism over the large gathering.
“I have had hate mail nationwide,” he said. “They’re all from out of state. The local outrage has been minimal.”
Parker said that the county and the city of Ludowici did not sanction the event. The children who had their photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus were spaced apart while in line, and there was a hand-sanitizing station, he said.
In a statement posted on the board’s Facebook page, Parker defended the decision to move forward with the event, which he said was well attended by public officials.
“I believe I speak for the majority of them in saying that we still stand by the decision of the chamber to move forward with these holiday traditions, and to bring some sense of normalcy to these trying times,” he said.