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Parades, other holiday traditions upended due to pandemic

November 27, 2020 GMT
In this Dec. 4, 2015 photo, people gather at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets as Santa Claus is heroically rescued from the roof of Weaver's department store by two Lawrence firefighters in a ladder truck in Lawrence, Kan. This event is not happening this year as the pandemic strains hospitals. Instead, Santa will appear on the first three Saturdays of December atop a truck decked out in garlands, poinsettias and pine cones. (The Lawrence Journal-World via AP)
In this Dec. 4, 2015 photo, people gather at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets as Santa Claus is heroically rescued from the roof of Weaver's department store by two Lawrence firefighters in a ladder truck in Lawrence, Kan. This event is not happening this year as the pandemic strains hospitals. Instead, Santa will appear on the first three Saturdays of December atop a truck decked out in garlands, poinsettias and pine cones. (The Lawrence Journal-World via AP)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Holiday traditions have been upended across Kansas due to a surge in coronavirus cases, forcing Santa to stay firmly on the ground in one city and transforming parades elsewhere.

In Lawrence, hundreds usually turn out on the Friday after Thanksgiving to watch firefighters use a ladder truck to rescue Santa from the top of Weaver’s Department Store. Children then line up to share their Christmas wishes with the jolly old elf.

But that’s not happening this year as the pandemic strains Kansas hospitals. The state’s confirmed and probable coronavirus cases rose by 5,224 to 153,021 from Wednesday to Friday and deaths increased by 26 to 1,529, state health officials said.

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Instead, Santa will make appearances with a local entertainer twice daily on the first three Saturdays of December atop a truck that has been decked out in garlands, poinsettias, pine cones and more, the Lawrence Journal-World reports. There will be holiday songs and socially distanced photos.

“This is our attempt at bringing Santa to the people,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, director of performing arts for the Lawrence Arts Center, which teamed up with Downtown Lawrence Inc. and Lawrence Parks & Recreation to make the free events happen in a safe manner.

The city’s hospital, Lawrence Memorial, has been converting more rooms for COVID-19 patients and 26 coronavirus patients were being treated there on Friday.

“It has been a challenging few days for our care teams, given the volumes and patient losses, but our surge plans are working well and we are prepared for an anticipated increase in the coming days,” said hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Smith.

In Wichita, where hospitals also are bulging, reservations are strongly encouraged for those who want a socially distanced visit to see Santa at the Towne East Square shopping mall.

The Oak Park mall in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park is also offering socially distanced Santa visits. The nearby University of Kansas Hospital was treating 132 COVID-19 patients on Friday.

Meanwhile, annual holiday parades taking place next week in Dodge City and Topeka, where the main hospital was treating 98 coronavirus patients on Friday, were thrown into reverse, with spectators encouraged to drive past stationary, socially spaced floats.

“It’s 2020, and I think everyone has gotten familiar with the unexpected,” Megan Welsh, of the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Dodge City Daily Globe. “Although this parade format will be something new — we hope it brings the same excitement and fun for everyone.”