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City of Fresno code enforcement officers investigated two photo-with-Santa businesses on Wednesday after receiving complaints that they weren’t following social distancing guidelines.

360 Image Makers on N. Fort Washington Road and Pamela Leeds Photography on W. Bullard Ave. both appeared to be following social distancing guidelines during the visit by inspectors. “Inspectors visited both locations and educated the owners,” said Rodney Horton, housing and neighborhood revitalization manager with the Fresno city attorney’s office.

GV Wire℠ spoke with Bruce Maurer, owner of 360 Image Makers, by phone afterward. “I only have one family in a 2,600-square-foot building at a time,” he said.

The complaints do signal that people are on edge, even as kids are eagerly waiting to meet and greet Santa. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some posted guidelines, and the top doctor in Fresno County has his own to share.

360 Image Makers

“So his (Santa’s) beard is actually full enough that it covers his mouth and nose.” — 360 Image Makers owner Bruce Maurer

In addition to only allowing one family inside at a time, temperatures are taken, hand sanitizer is everywhere, doorknobs are wiped down repeatedly during the day, and everyone is staying at least 6 feet apart to adhere to social distancing recommendations, says Maurer.

Kids don’t actually sit on Santa’s lap but next to him on the edge of a chair, “which actually leads to better posture anyway,” he says.

But Santa doesn’t wear a mask.

“He’s not a real bearded Santa,” explains Maurer. “So his beard is actually full enough that it covers his mouth and nose.”

The only time the kids aren’t wearing a mask is for the few seconds when the photo is taken, he says. “He’s (Santa’s) not really facing the kids during the pictures.”

“The parents always have their mask on. My computer operator always has their mask on, and I have my mask on,” Maurer says. “I’ve had moms cry because the kids needed this so bad, some normalcy in their life.”

Fashion Fair Mall Santa Photos

“Santa wouldn’t miss this visit for anything!” Fashion Fair Mall writes on its website. The mall says visits with Santa are located in its center court and are free.

Some of the safety protocols in place are:

  • Masks are required to be worn by Santa, the team and guests age 2 and older or by local mandate.
  • Hand sanitizer is available upon entering and exiting.
  • Social distancing is observed between Santa and guests at all times.
  • Staff perform deep cleaning of the Santa set.

The mall encourages people to make reservations ahead of time to help ensure social distancing.

Virtual Santa Option

” ‘The “Santa Magic Photo Experience’ may appear that Santa is sitting with families, but he is not.” — Peter De Young, owner of Holiday Magic Studios

Holiday Magic Studios has a unique way for kids to take a virtual photo with Santa at River Park.

“The ‘Santa Magic Photo Experience’ may appear that Santa is sitting with families, but he is not,” says owner Peter De Young.  “He appears ‘magically’ in every picture taken. The technology is proprietary to Holiday Magic Studios.”

The kids are first shown a video in which Santa explains a tremendous snowstorm has kept him stuck at the North Pole. Parents have the kids sit in positions around a chair in different poses for the camera.

Afterward, Santa is virtually placed in the photos like he was actually there the whole time.

Appointments need to be booked ahead of time.

Fresno County Department of Public Health Recommendations

“Use a mask before, during, and after photos.” Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra

GV Wire℠ asked Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra for his recommendations for photos with jolly ol’ Saint Nick.

Vohra sent the following tips:

  1. Stay home if you are sick. Don’t be the Grinch who brings the COVID virus to Santa, his elves, or others working in their workshop.
  2. Maintain hand hygiene — clean your hands immediately before and after any transactions and contacts while you are doing your errands.
  3. Use a mask before, during, and after photos. At this point there is plenty of evidence of how masks protect everyone. But beyond the immediate protection, this may be the best reminder of this surreal year when we all remember 2020 in the years to come.
  4. Do everything outdoors, or socially distanced. Again, even a few minutes with an infected person can be enough to spread the virus, and masks are not 100% effective. Keep Santa and his elves safe by taking photos while staying apart.
  5. Use a plexiglass barrier to keep you and your family safe in high-traffic areas like a photo shoot.
  6. Use digital additions to add in scenes, or even an image of Santa, to ensure safety for everyone.
  7. Don’t make it a gathering — stay with your own household and show up just before your appointment.
  8. If it doesn’t feel safe — skip it! Trust your instincts and be vigilant.

CDC Guidance

The CDC says if your holiday traditions usually involve visiting Santa Claus, check local opportunities and know requirements for visiting safely.

  • Schedule a virtual visit to the North Pole.
  • Visit Santa Claus outside while a wearing mask and staying 6 feet apart.
  • If Santa Claus is staying indoors, he will likely be taking safety measures; you may be able to visit him through a plexiglass safety window.

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