Here comes Santa Claus - with face masks and plexiglass

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Julianna, 3, and Dylan, 5, Lasczak visit with Santa through a transparent barrier at a Bass Pro Shop in Bridgeport, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Santa Claus is coming to the mall just don't try to sit on his lap. Malls are doing all they can to keep the jolly old man safe from the coronavirus, including banning kids from sitting on his knee, no matter if they've been naughty or nice. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – Santa Claus is coming to the mall — just don’t try to sit on his lap.

Despite the pandemic — and the fact that Santa's age and weight put him at high risk for severe illness from the coronavirus — mall owners are going ahead with plans to bring him back this year.

But they are doing all they can to keep the jolly old man safe, including banning kids from sitting on his knee, no matter if they've been naughty or nice.

Kids will instead tell Santa what they want for Christmas from six feet away, and sometimes from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Santa and his visitors may need to wear a face mask, even while posing for photos. And some malls will put faux gift boxes and other decorations in front of Saint Nick to block kids from charging toward him.

Other safety measures include online reservations to cut down on lines, workers wiping down holiday-decorated sets, and hand sanitizer aplenty. Santa’s hours are also getting cut to give him a break from crowds.

Macy’s canceled its in-person visits this year, saying it couldn’t provide a safe environment for the more than 250,000 people that show up to see Kriss Kringle at its New York flagship store.

But malls, which have struggled to attract shoppers for years, are not willing to kill a holiday tradition that is one of their biggest ways to lure people during the all-important holiday shopping season.

“You have to give them a reason to come or they’ll stay home and shop online," says Michael Brown, who oversees the retail team at consulting firm Kearney.