Despite the fact that 2020 has been a chaotic whirlwind of a year, wedding season is still in full swing. If you’re sitting on an invite, not sure how to RSVP because you don't know if it’s safe to go to a wedding during the coronavirus pandemic, you're not alone. Of course you want to say yes and be part of a loved one's big day, and if this were any other year, you'd jump at the chance to say go! But considering the uncertainty of COVID-19, and with case numbers breaking records in some states, it's natural to be concerned that attending a wedding is just too risky right now.
According to Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA — a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health specializing in emerging infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity — you're right to worry. “In the era of the pandemic, no activity's without risk,” Dr. Adalja tells Elite Daily, although he adds that it's going to be up to each individual to assess which risks are worth taking. This is all the more reason why it's so important to understand what your level of potential exposure is at a wedding. That way, you can make the most informed decision for yourself and your plus-one.
How To Assess The Risk
According to a statement released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March, “large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities.” This, of course, includes weddings. But not all weddings present the same amount of opportunity for spread, as Prathit Kulkarni, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine, tells Elite Daily. “The risk of attending a wedding during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic really depends on the details of the event,” he explains. “Factors that are important to consider include: the total number of attendees, whether the event is indoors or outdoors, the extent to which physical distancing is emphasized, and masking requirements for attendees.”
Let's break that down a little bit. The reason smaller weddings are considered to be less risky is due to how the virus is passed from person to person. According to the CDC, COVID-19 is “spread mostly by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may also spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose, mouth, or eyes, causing infection.” So, the greater the number of people you come in contact with, the higher the potential for contracting COVID-19. However, even at smaller, sparsely attended gatherings, it’s still necessary to maintain a six-foot physical distance from other guests and wear a face mask.
When deciding how to RSVP, the geographical location of the wedding is also an important factor to consider. For instance, is the wedding in an area that is seeing case numbers spike? If so, the risk may be too high to safely attend. As the CDC explains, the higher the level of community transmission in the area, the greater the risk of COVID-19 spreading during the wedding. Because of this, doing some research on the case numbers and trends in the area where the wedding's taking place can help you decide whether you should opt in or out.
Nevertheless, there is one other factor at play that might not be quite so easy to research on your own: whether or not other guests are coming from outside the local area, and particularly if they're traveling from a coronavirus hotspot. If so, this increases the risk of the virus spreading at the gathering, and is another reminder of why keeping physical distance and wearing a mask, should you decide to attend, is essential.
Dr. Kulkarni adds that it's also important to consider that some attendees, regardless of where they're coming from, may be asymptomatic (meaning they aren't presenting any symptoms), but are still contagious. “Keep in mind that around 25% or more of people with confirmed COVID-19 infection might be totally asymptomatic. This is an important reason for universal masking in public. It's possible to be harboring the infection without feeling symptoms,” he explains.
The wedding venue itself matters, too. Outdoor weddings are considered by the CDC to be a safer option over indoor venues. A study conducted in Japan in April 2020 indicated that people are 20 times more likely to contract COVID-19 indoors. Because of this, safely attending big indoor weddings is off the table for the foreseeable future.
If that all seems like a lot to keep in mind, Dr. Kulkarni puts it more succinctly. “In general, events with a higher total number of attendees, indoor events in enclosed areas, events where physical distancing is not emphasized, and events without masking recommendations for attendees would increase risk of transmission of coronavirus,” he concludes.
What To Do If You Decide To Stay Home
If you decide your best option is to decline the invite after carefully considering the risk factors, then knowing how to politely do so can make it easier on both you and your loved one getting married. While you may dread letting your friend or family member down, relationship and etiquette expert April Masini says the best way to handle the situation is to do so in a timely fashion.
“Don’t wait until the day before the RSVP card is due back. Remember that your would-be hosts need to plan, and your yes or no is going to make a big difference in their budgeting. Giving your hosts a quick no is respectful and good etiquette,” she tells Elite Daily. “Be succinct and extend your best wishes. You don’t have to bend over backward apologizing for not attending a wedding — pandemic or not. Life happens and you can simply say you regret that you won’t be able to make it.”
However, if you do feel like you want to explain your reason for RSVPing no, Masini says it's appropriate to be honest. “Don’t make a big deal of it, but don’t be ashamed, either," she advises. "There's no doubt that the bride and groom have agonized over whether and how to get married during a pandemic. They know that there is a strong chance many guests won’t attend because of it.”
A wedding can be a big milestone in someone's life, so it’s possible that some people might not take your choice not to attend theirs very well. In that case, Masini counsels responding in a calm manner and with empathy. “If they're upset about your choice to not attend, try not to engage in drama. Stick to your decision and instead of rising to their level of antagonism or pressure, turn the tables and express empathy. ‘I’m so sorry you feel that way,’ goes a long way,” she explains. “Or, you can empathize and offer to throw a post-wedding luncheon when the pandemic is over and normal is a thing again!” While the pushback from your loved one may be difficult to hear in the moment, you can take solace in knowing that you’ve made your decision with the interests of your health and that of your loved ones in mind.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you once you’ve fully considered the risks. “It's going to reflect an individual's personal risk tolerance and how important the event is to that person,” says Dr. Adalja. “There'll be no one-size-fits-all answer and nothing will be without risk, but for some people, that risk will be worth taking.”
Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in emerging infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity
Prathit Kulkarni, MD, an assistant professor of medicine-infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine
April Masini author, relationship and etiquette expert