The Raleigh man whose been portraying St. Nick for years is trying to reassure parents that it's safe for him to go to their homes for Christmas photos with families. But not all parents are convinced.
On his YouTube page, Duane Reaugh, known professionally as "Santa Duane" has been masked up and preaching COVID-19 safety this Christmas. "We're also being very safe up here at the North Pole. We're practicing the 3 W's," he says in a brief video.
The 73-year-old Raleigh man has been portraying Santa Claus for five years across the Triangle at malls, parties and events big and small. The pandemic's put much of his business on hold this Christmas. But some parents are still reaching out to Reaugh -- requesting home visits for Christmas pictures with their kids.
"We always do social distancing, with the exception of picture taking," Reaugh explained in a virtual interview. "It's very rare the children sit on my lap. They almost always either stand next to me or I stand behind them."
Reaugh is not advertising himself as COVID-19 vaccinated. But when a parent calls to hire him, he writes back, "I have received the COVID-19 vaccine and I am immunity verified by an independent test."
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That's good enough for some customers. But some concerned parents contacted us very suspicious of the claim.
When a Raleigh Santa Claus said he was pandemic-safe because he’s already been vaccinated for COVID-19, some parents felt reassured to hire him for pics; others were suspicious.— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) December 11, 2020
Tonight, we talk to ‘Santa Duane’ about his role in the Pfizer vaccine trials. #abc11 pic.twitter.com/NlHoi2j566
"Not sure how he would have gotten a not-yet-approved vaccine or had his immunity verified," one parent texted ABC11 on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating friends. "Seems like he's making false claims to get business... He could potentially kill someone by exposing them."
As proof of his COVID-19 vaccination, Reaugh showed a lengthy contract he signed as a volunteer for North Carolina's phase 3 clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine. He says he received his first dose September 1; the second dose three weeks later; and says he was assured last month of his COVID-19 immunity through a LabCorp antibody test he paid for out of pocket.
This jolly old man with underlying conditions insists he wouldn't put anyone at risk including himself.
"(Santa Claus actors) are all old and probably overweight," he joked.
And on this day an FDA panel voted to recommend federal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, Reaugh is supporting it too. "I would strongly urge anybody to get the shot, get the vaccine. The reaction was just like a flu shot," he said. "There's nothing to fear. There's only goodness."