PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Some good news for 2020: The annual tradition of tracking Santa Claus’ journey around the globe as he delivers gifts on Christmas Eve will continue this year — but with fewer volunteers due to safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Monday that preparations are underway for its mission to track Saint Nick, something it has done each year for decades.
“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the NORAD Tracks Santa program is on schedule and NORAD will track Santa on Dec. 24, as we have done every year since 1955,” the organization said.
Children around the world can track Santa beginning Dec. 1 on the NORAD Tracks Santa website, as well as on social media and on a new mobile app.
But the organization added that only a small number of volunteers will be working the call center on Dec. 24 for children to call in and inquire about Santa’s whereabouts.
Callers who cannot reach one of the volunteers at the toll-free number (1-877-Hi-NORAD) will receive a recorded update on Santa's current location, the organization said.
“While NORAD understands the call center is an important tradition for many families around the world, we reduce the health risks posed by attempting to conduct a large indoor, in-person, call center during the pandemic. NORAD is committed to tracking Santa while keeping our military, their families, and our dedicated call center volunteers safe,” NORAD said.
This December 24, 2012 file image shows a woman monitoring the progress of Santa Claus in Washington, D.C. The Santa tracker at right is set-up by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a US-Canada joint operation, the other is by the
NORAD began its Santa tracking mission when a young child accidentally dialed the unlisted phone number of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to NORAD. The child believed she was calling Santa Claus after seeing a promotion in a local newspaper.
The commander on duty that night, Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, quickly realized her mistake and assured the girl that CONAD would guarantee Santa a safe journey from the North Pole.
“Thus a tradition was born that rolled over to NORAD when it was formed in 1958. Each year since, NORAD has dutifully reported Santa's location on Dec. 24 to millions across the globe,” the organization explains on its website. NORAD is a combined organization of the U.S. and Canada that provides air protection for Northern America.
As coronavirus cases continue to surge in states across the country, other holiday traditions have been impacted as well.
Malls across the country have implemented a number of changes to safely bring Santa Claus back this year, including banning kids from sitting on his knee, implementing the use of face masks, and, in some cases, installing a sheet of plexiglass to keep a distance from kids sharing their wish list.
The resurgence of the virus has sent death, hospitalization and new infection figures soaring in recent days. COVID-19 is blamed for nearly 247,000 deaths and there are more than 11.1 million confirmed cases in the U.S., according to data compiled on Nov. 16 by Johns Hopkins University.
The spike prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release updated guidelines for Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.