What You Need to Know About Coronavirus and Your Wedding
Over the past two months, the world has worked to slow the spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, by shuttering retail shops, closing schools, and discouraging large, in-person events. Come May, however, federal recommendations to ban gatherings of 10 people or more expired—but that doesn't mean that couples planning their weddings, along with the professionals helping them, aren't still facing their own set of challenges. Whether you're days or weeks away from saying "I do" locally, finalizing a destination wedding, or looking ahead to a future event, you should prepare for—not panic over—changes in your plans, even as restrictions loosen. "Don't panic, but be proactive," says wedding planner Allison Jackson of Pineapple Productions. "While the coronavirus is something new and unprecedented, couples should remember that what is not new to wedding planners is the practice of developing sound contingency plans."
Consider postponing the event.
As of May 1, 2020, federally-mandated CDC social distancing guidelines, which banned events attended by more than 10 people (down from the 50-plus rule issued in early March) expired. But this doesn't suggest that full-fledged celebrations are back on the table. Depending on where you live, states are now entering reopening phases, but we're still waiting on official guidelines from the White House on how to best do so. As for which phase weddings and events fall into? That will likely be up to your state or local government to decide, so be sure to pay close attention to what's happening in your own municipality.
If you're still faced with the incredibly difficult task of deciding what to do, consult first with your vendors. "Check with your local government and the CDC first, as things are changing daily," says Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events. Since we can assume that larger events will still be on hold for the foreseeable future, it's important to begin the postponement process. That last part is the most important: "I do not encourage you to cancel your wedding. Postpone it instead," he adds.
Prepare for a smaller guest count.
Even if your wedding was already a small one, you still may see a smaller number of guests in attendance as weddings become possible, especially as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread. Out-of-town guests may not even have the option to fly in, especially if they live outside of the United States (the CDC has restricted travelers from countries like China, Ireland, and the majority of Europe from entering the country). "The biggest challenge for couples planning weddings in the next few [months] is coming to grips with the need for social distancing," says Jackson. "Public health officials are making it very clear that in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we need to avoid large public gatherings and limit our movements."
If your state's restrictions loosen enough to allow for a larger guest count, and you plan to move forward with your ceremony no matter how many guests change their RSVP from "accepts with pleasure" to "declines with regret," your planner can help reorganize the day. "When a guest count drops for any reason," says Jackson, "I work to adjust things like floor plans, décor, and timelines to make sense for the new scenario." She's even working on ways to help long-distance guests—like your elderly grandparents and overseas BFF—join the celebration virtually. "Trust your wedding planner and key vendors to come up with a thoughtful, beautiful, and solid Plan B—or maybe it's actually a Plan C," says Jackson. "Even if you don't have to implement this plan, having it will help you feel less uncertain and less stressed."
Check in with your vendors.
As you're modifying your plans, you should call your vendors, too. In most cases, says Meyer, a vendor who chooses not to work your wedding for personal reasons will send another member of their team, or suggest another industry professional. "We have to respect everyone's decision to protect their own health first," says Meyer. "If the entire company cannot do the job due to the coronavirus then you should ask them for recommendations."
If your vendors are still willing to attend, ask about the steps they've taken to protect themselves and your guests. "One way to stay solution-oriented is to work with your vendors to develop and implement health strategies to keep everyone attending or working a wedding as safe as possible," says Jackson. "The caterers, rental companies, and floral designers I work with have been terrific about outlining ways they have stepped up sanitization procedures, including increased hand-washing, disinfection of vehicles and equipment, and requiring any sick employees to stay home from work." Asking your vendors—and your guests, for that matter—to wear protective masks is also suggested, per the CDC.
Follow local guidelines.
While a lower guest count or alternative vendor doesn't require cancelling or postponing a wedding, couples who've planned events in virus hotspots or towns with restrictions around the number of people at any gathering might face changes that are out of their control. "If the local town laws are not allowing social gatherings, if many guests cannot travel in, or if vendors are not able to do their jobs or provide their services, then I think exploring the idea of postponing makes sense," says Meyer. "If the wedding is in a location that is in quarantine then it may be canceled; if it is near a location that is being closely monitored, it may be canceled." International destination weddings are especially jeopardized, as the U.S. Department of State declared a Global Level 4 Health Advisory—strongly encouraging all Americans to avoid international travel. "For couples getting married abroad in countries on the no-travel list, unfortunately this means postponing or relocating your wedding," says Jackson.
Your vendor contracts will detail the options you have for refunds and rescheduling, and while the planners we've spoken to expect most vendors to accommodate changes if possible, couples should be aware that postponing or canceling may come with a cost. "If your wedding is in the next 30 days, it is advised to call your vendors and talk about postponing or canceling, based on what is best for you and your fiancé," says Meyer. "Vendors are doing their best to take care of their clients and move dates but their own businesses will take hits as well, so there may be date change fees to help keep their companies afloat in these challenging and uncertain times."
If you chose not to hire a wedding planner at the beginning of the process, it's not too late: Enlisting the help of a professional to reschedule your big day, understand your vendor contracts, or come up with an alternative ceremony plan is often still an option. "An experienced professional can help you pivot and establish a new plan as quickly as possible," says Jackson. Meyer agrees: "If a couple is feeling overwhelmed with their planning, they should consider reaching out to a professional planner for assistance. Since we have never experienced anything like this before, speaking to a professional may be helpful, and some may offer hourly consultations to help. Also some may be very busy and focused on their current client needs, so be patient with your outreach."
Take it one day at a time.
If you've already started making plans for a fall or winter wedding, don't rush to make any changes. "I think couples should continue to plan their weddings," says Meyer. "They can add a caveat about coronavirus for any new vendors they book, but they should proceed as normal for now. If couples feel nervous, then they should wait on booking vendors—but know that others who are postponing their weddings will be looking for vendors as well, so I suggest booking and moving forward." Jackson encourages her future clients to stick to their timelines, too: "Track developments in the news, but also be sure to turn to your wedding planner before making any major decisions," she says. "For couples planning weddings in the summer and fall, perhaps the pandemic's curve will have flattened and the next biggest challenge to address will be restricted guest travel. Gathering information about your options is the way to avoid feeling powerless about this pandemic."
This information is accurate as of May 5, 2020. The Martha Stewart Weddings team will make every effort to update this story with accurate information as soon as it becomes available, but we encourage our readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department, as well as consulting with their wedding vendors.
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