FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2019, file photo monitors are illuminated in the NORAD Tracks Santa center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on December 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call center to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2019, file photo monitors are illuminated in the NORAD Tracks Santa center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on December 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call center to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Sorry, Grinch. Virus won’t stop NORAD from tracking Santa

North American Aerospace Defence Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on Dec. 24

Children of the world can rest easy. The global pandemic won’t stop them from tracking Santa Claus’ progress as he delivers gifts around the globe on Christmas Eve.

The North American Aerospace Defence Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on Dec. 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call centre to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before.

Normally, 150-160 volunteers crowd into a conference room at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, taking two-hour shifts to answer the phones as eager children call to see if Santa and his sleigh have reached their rooftops. All together, 1,500 people over 20 hours have participated in the call centre in the past, fielding more than 130,000 phone calls, beginning at 6 a.m. Eastern time on Christmas Eve.

This year, due to safety restrictions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of volunteers has been drastically cut to what NORAD expects will be fewer than 10 people per shift.

“We understand this is a time-honoured tradition, and we know undoubtedly there is going to be some disappointment,” said NORAD spokesman Preston Schlachter. “But we’re trying to keep it safe for everyone involved.”

So, some callers may be able to once again get through to a member of the military or other volunteer when they dial the NORAD Tracks Santa toll-free number, 1-877-Hi-NORAD. But others will get a recorded update on Santa’s current location.

Schlachter said NORAD will largely be limiting volunteers to people who already work there and their immediate families. But that could be expanded a bit as the time gets closer. He said that this year volunteers will answer health questions and have their temperature checked when they arrive, and a cleaning crew will wipe down surfaces throughout the day. There will be wipes and other supplies available, and between shifts the entire calling area will be sanitized before the next group comes in.

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2019, file photo a playbook sits next to a telephone set up in the NORAD Tracks Santa center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on December 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call center to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2019, file photo a playbook sits next to a telephone set up in the NORAD Tracks Santa center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on December 24, just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call center to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Faced with concerns about the virus, officials at NORAD have worked for weeks to figure out a way to ensure that the much-beloved tradition could go on.

The military command has been fielding calls since 1955, when Air Force Col. Harry Shoup — the commander on duty at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defence Command — fielded a call from a child who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a newspaper department store ad, thinking she was calling Santa.

A fast-thinking Shoup quickly assured his caller that he was. And the tradition began.

Today, most early calls come from Japan and Europe, and as the day goes on the callers from the U.S. and Canada climb.

Besides the call centre, the NORAD Tracks Santa website — noradsanta.org — as well as social media pages, Amazon Alexa, Onstar and a new mobile app will still be available with up-to-the-minute details on Santa’s location. A social media team will operate from a separate conference room at the base.

The tracking Santa apps will soon be available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Suspect arrested after armed robbery in downtown Castlegar

Victim was allegedly threatened with knife and bear spray

Columbia Avenue Redevelopment — Phase 2 will begin in February. Image: City of Castlegar
Construction on the Columbia Avenue Redevelopment Project beginning March 1

Crews will be clearing brush and trees and removing asphalt

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

(file photo)
Nomination packages available for Castlegar byelection

The mayor’s seat and one council seat will be on the ballot

The Skinny Genes Foundation is raising awareness and funds for a rare genetic disorder that claimed both his father and uncle.
NHL players, local businesses help Kootenay man raise funds and awareness for rare genetic disease

Signed NHL jerseys and local business donations up for auction in Skinny Genes Foundation fundraiser

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read