• Penny Neef

I Called the Covid Hotline

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words and Images Courtesy of Penny Neef.



If you would have told me a year ago that I would be calling the Covid Hotline, the first thing I would have said is, “What’s Covid?”


Yet, here I am, right in the middle of a Covid spike, co-chair of my neighborhood’s social committee, trying to bring holiday cheer to the 1,500 households that have had it up to their masked eyeballs with Zoom school, Zoom office meetings, staying away from grandma and grandpa, and on and on and on.


Our social committee organizes neighborhood events like outdoor concerts in the park, family movie nights, and big old potluck barbeques. Not this year. We pivoted, like everyone else. We’ve been pretty successful. Early on, we started book and puzzle exchanges in waterproof bins under the gazebo at our neighborhood park.


We held a socially distant sidewalk chalk art contest in May. Each family unit worked together to create a chalk art masterpiece on a marked piece of sidewalk that was far, far away from the other marked pieces of sidewalk. It was a beautiful spring weekend. We had a great response.

We painted and hid over 80 rocks all around the neighborhood one very hot weekend in the summer. Families were out at 7:00 am, looking for those rocks. There were five rocks that were the “golden ticket” rocks. Those rocks were worth special prizes. Prizes delivered by contactless delivery, the US mail.

Then came Halloween. The neighborhood social media forums were buzzing with worries from parents. Is door to door trick or treating allowed? Is it safe? My kids can’t miss this all-important holiday!! My wonderful co-chair, Fran, and I had already started planning for our very first neighborhood Halloween event. We called it Halloween Hallo-Walk, walk being the key word.


We are very fortunate to have a large, central park in our neighborhood. It is the place we would normally hold concerts, movie nights and potlucks. It has a gazebo, a large deck that looks over a retention pond, paved walkways, lots of grass and even a pedestrian tunnel that goes under a road. We are also very fortunate that the local ABNB Credit Union was willing to co-sponsor an event with us. Originally, it was going to be a concert, but they were willing to pivot with us and cosponsor our Halloween Hallo-Walk.


We transformed the tunnel into Spooky Tunnel. We created a graveyard and two other fall photo opps for socially distant family photos. We asked everyone to come dressed in a costume, wear a mask, and follow a one-way course all over the park, with stops along the way, to pick up tricks and treats, all prepackaged with hand sanitizer and wipes at every stop. We asked that families stay together and stay apart from other families. We expected 200, we got over 700.

Penny and Fran’s Halloween Photo.

Our neighbors respected the rules, kept their distance, and just seemed so happy to be outside with their families, doing something festive together but apart. I don’t think I have ever received as much appreciation in my life. People can be so kind sometimes.


Then came the recent spike in Covid cases and the Governor’s new restrictions. That is Executive Order Sixth Amended Number Sixty-Seven (2020), which you can read right here if you are so inclined.


Our neighborhood holds a holiday event each year called Holly Days. We rent outdoor heaters so that everyone can congregate under the gazebo at the park, make s’mores, drink hot cocoa, sit on Santa’s lap and so on. Congregate, sit on Santa’s lap – so 2019! Fran and I knew it had to be different this year. No lap sitting for sure.

Sorry, kiddos, Santa’s in a high-risk population, and we don’t want him potentially infecting the elves. You can talk from a distance this year.

We planned something along the lines of our Halloween Hallo-Walk. Holly Days could easily be transformed into Holly Days Holly Walk. Santa and Mrs. Claus would bring their own sleigh. They would stay right up in it, while families could stop for a photo in front of the sleigh, six feet away. Prepackaged treats and hot cocoa could be set up at stations, far from each other. We planned to transform the Spooky Tunnel into Frozen Wonderland with a borrowed snow machine and lots of fairy lights. We would have the same kind of one-way course. Families would stay together, spaced apart from other families, and keep moving through the course.


I listened to the Governor. I Googled the new guidelines, and I got worried. I heard no groups of more than 25 indoors or outdoors. 


This is the long story of how I came to call the Covid Hotline. By the way, they pick up the phone right away and it is a real, and very helpful person, so don’t be afraid to call the Covid Hotline. Kudos to the Virginia Department of Health.


I explained our Holly Days Holly Walk plan to the very nice lady. She put me on hold to confer with her supervisor. She was back on the line within two minutes to explain that our event would fall under Section 13a, “Recreational Sports”. You can read about it in the guidelines if you’d like.

Holly Walk falls into the same category as a “race, walk or marathon.” These are allowed outdoors, as long as participants are spaced apart and there are no more than 25 spectators. The nice Covid Hotline lady asked if there would be spectators. There will be none, and we will have volunteers on route to keep families apart and moving along.


Right now, Holly Walk is on. No one knows what December will bring, but in the meantime, Fran and I are moving ahead with the snow machine, the fake snowballs (one to each person and only you touch your snowball), Santa far away in a sleigh, prepackaged treats, and holiday music. We’re hoping it will bring a little bit of joy to our neighbors in these difficult times. We can wave to each other across a (fake) snowy field and know that we’re still all here and hoping for a better 2021. Happy Holidays, everyone!


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