Weddings are all about closeness and intimacy — from hugging loved ones you haven’t seen in ages, to busting some moves on the dance floor — and that means spouses-to-be are facing a serious conundrum in the era of social distancing. While some had to postpone their big day indefinitely, others were forced to embrace a virtual celebration. Now that stay-at-home orders are steadily lifting and states are slowly reopening, however, the question is: when it will be safe to have a wedding again?
According to experts, the answer all depends on the pandemic progression in the community your wedding will be held, as well as the size and nature of the festivities you’re planning — but fortunately, there are ways to determine when you might be able to say "I do" without compromising the safety of your guests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement in March explaining that “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." The CDC noted that “the size of an event or gathering should be determined based on state, local, territorial or tribal safety laws and regulations.” Additionally, the agency warned that events should only proceed with “adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.”
First, let’s talk about location. According to the CDC, the higher the level of community transmission in the area that the gathering is being held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a gathering. So, you’ll want to do some research to find out the number of known cases in your community, as well as whether that number has been trending upward or downward.
As you may expect, destination weddings are the most complicated when it comes to safety precautions — especially since travel restrictions and guidelines are constantly changing. On June 15, the U.S. government established new restrictions on the entry of certain travelers into the country in an effort to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Lawful American residents who have been to one of the countries on the list — including China, Iran, anywhere in the U.K., Brazil, the European Schengen area, or the Republic of Ireland — within the last 14 days will only be allowed to enter through one of 15 specific airports, and even then, the CDC is recommending that they self-quarantine for two full weeks.
There are other issues to consider as well. Not only will you have to evaluate the conditions around the pandemic in the local community where you’re traveling to, but you also have to consider the spread where your guests will be traveling from. As the CDC points out, even if you or your guests don’t have symptoms, you can still spread COVID-19 to others while traveling. Plus, the state or local government at your destination may require you to shelter in place for 14 days after traveling to monitor their health and look for potential symptoms.
Given all of these considerations, it would be extremely challenging to ensure that a destination wedding is safe for all attendees — unless you keep the headcount extremely low, and determine that the community where you and your spouse-to-be currently live, the location where your guests live, and the location where your wedding will be held are all considered low-risk for the virus. If you’re still on the fence about planning a small destination wedding, the CDC has created a map with country-specific risk assessment for COVID-19 transmission and travel health information that may prove useful.
While there are many gray areas when it comes to weddings in the COVID-19 era, large-scale indoor receptions with hundreds of people are definitely off the table — at least until there’s widespread immunity to the virus.
“Regarding larger indoor weddings, we don't anticipate being allowed to do this until phase four is reached, which would potentially include having a vaccine,” says Mandy Connor, owner and lead planner for Hummingbird Bridal and Events.
As the CDC points out, the more people an individual interacts with, the higher the odds that they will become infected with (and then spread) COVID-19. In fact, the CDC states that large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for guests to remain at least 6 feet apart are considered the highest risk. So, the smaller your wedding is, the safer it is for everyone involved.
“Large church weddings will have to wait until at least next spring when big gatherings are allowed inside and the threat of new cases is long past,” Tiffany Hayden, founder and lead wedding planner at Detailed in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily.
Even if you’re planning an indoor wedding for winter of 2020 or spring of 2021, Hayden highly advises making sure that your vendors have reasonable cancellation policies just in case, and reminding guests that they should not attend if they show any signs of illness.
Another thing to consider is whether or not any of your guests will need to travel to your wedding — and if so, how many will be required to do so. According to the CDC, medium-sized gatherings are still considered relatively high-risk if attendees are coming from outside the local area. This is especially true if any of your guests are traveling from any location that’s currently considered a coronavirus hotspot.
While virtual weddings are obviously the lowest-risk option, the CDC states that the next safest thing when it comes to in-person gatherings are small outdoor celebrations in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area. It’s best to follow local guidelines when it comes to the headcount for these types of weddings.
Many couples who are unwilling to cancel or postpone their wedding are simply adjusting to the circumstances by lowering the number of invitees. According to a recent Zola survey of 500+ couples provided to Elite Daily, 76% are still getting married in some way on their original date — but 11% are actively reducing their guest count, in some cases even uninviting people. If you really have your heart set on a large-scale reception, there’s no reason why you can’t have a two-part affair. Zola’s survey revealed that 30% of couples are opting to have an intimate wedding now — and then planning to host a larger reception later on, once it’s safe to do so.
“Most couples right now are refocusing their efforts on planning micro-weddings (10 to 15 guests) or elopements and are either forgoing completely or postponing their bigger receptions for next year or later,” adds Connor.
While a small, outdoor celebration may not be what you originally had in mind, Hayden says there are definitely perks to a more intimate wedding.
“A small guest list means more of your budget can be spent on decor and food, or whatever is important to you,” she explains.
If for whatever reason you’ve determined that it’s not safe to have an in-person wedding right now (or you’ve had to significantly cut down your guest list), but you’re not willing to postpone it, Connor notes that there are lots of opportunities to think outside the box in terms of how you celebrate with loved ones.
“We are encouraging couples to consider live-streaming their elopements for all of the wedding guests who can't attend or to consider hiring great videography teams who can capture the ceremony and details to share with guests later,” she explains.
At least until there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus, there are many measures you'll likely need to take to ensure your wedding is safe for everyone involved. For example, it’s advisable to set up a sanitization station, nix the greeting line, and have plated meals (as opposed to a buffet). The CDC's extensive guidelines for events include making sure staff is following proper hygiene and disinfecting protocol, as well as encouraging attendees to wear face coverings — especially "in settings where individuals might raise their voice (e.g., shouting, chanting, singing)."
If your gathering will be indoors, the CDC notes that there should be as much ventilation as possible. "Extra care should be paid to make sure people don't line up or overcrowd restrooms," the agency adds. The CDC also recommends broadcasting regular announcements about reducing the spread of COVID-19 on public address systems whenever possible.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, remember that your wedding planner and vendors can guide you in making sure that your wedding fits the "new normal."
"Event planners and officials can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials, whether and how to implement these considerations, making adjustments to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community," states the CDC. "Organizers should continue to assess, based on current conditions, whether to postpone, cancel, or significantly reduce the number of attendees for gatherings."
While the limitations you’re facing may feel frustrating, keep in mind that the most important thing is that you, your spouse-to-be, and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
“Love is not cancelled — we just need to rethink the size and scope of the celebrations that we are hosting,” says Connor.
As they say, love conquers all — even a worldwide pandemic. And who knows? You may be surprised to find that the socially-distanced wedding you ultimately plan is even more memorable than the one you initially imagined.
Mandy Connor, wedding planner
Tiffany Hayden, wedding planner