Maskless Santa Claus tests positive for COVID-19, special needs children potentially exposed

A man who played Santa during a "Sensory Santa" event for special needs children in Fountain Inn, South Carolina on Dec. 13 tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after the event, potentially exposing the children and their families to the coronavirus. 

The event, which involved 11 families, was intended for families with autistic children who suffer from overwhelming sensory overload. 

Fountain Inn City Administrator Shawn Bell told the Post and Courier that families were informed that masks were required for the event, but mask use was not universal. Bell said the children did not sit in Santa Claus’ lap.

"When they signed up, we told them that masks were required for those that could wear them," Bell said. "Many of the family members did wear masks, and some of them chose not to."

Bell also told the Post and Courier that the man who played Santa did not wear a face mask during the event. 

City officials wrote in an online statement that the individual who played Santa, whose name remains anonymous, informed them that he had tested positive for the coronavirus three days after the event. 

"Those in attendance and participants, whether or not they chose to wear masks, should take every precaution and contact their health provider immediately to be tested for Covid-19," Fountain Inn officials wrote on the city’s website.

"While we are unable to provide any specific guidance on where to be tested, numerous locations are offering this service and we strongly urge you to take this unfortunate development seriously and take the recommended action. We sincerely regret this situation and apologize for this inconvenience," the website wrote. 

Bell said the event was held outdoors and participants were separated from the man playing Santa by "approximately 6 feet by a rope." 

"As soon as we were made aware of Santa’s potential exposure, we contacted all eleven families to let them know," Bell wrote. "As soon as we were informed of Santa’s positive test, we informed the eleven families."