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Love in the time of coronavirus: Couples are scrambling to prepare last-minute wedding alternatives

March 15, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC

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Walking into the wedding, guests were greeted with servers holding silver trays full of hand sanitizer and were handed a glass of Champagne by a waiter wearing a white glove. A pack of Lysol wipes was placed at each guest’s seat, and rolls of monogrammed toilet paper were available too. It sounds like a parody you’d find on Saturday Night Live, but in the time of COVID-19, it just may be the reality of nuptials in 2020.

The big question on the minds of engaged couples is whether or not to go through with wedding plans in the coming weeks and months. For some, that involves the costly and time-consuming process of cancellation; for others, however, the show must go on. It’s not the first time that uncontrollable disasters have struck the wedding world: Hurricanes derailed beach weddings in the Caribbean; Zika worries deterred many from destination weddings in Mexico and beyond for years; and Sept. 11 instilled a fear of flying that still lingers. To that end, wedding planners, photographers, and caterers are coming up with creative ways to keep newlyweds and their guests safe.

“Couples are not going to stop getting married because of coronavirus,” says Amy Shey Jacobs, the planner behind Chandelier Events. “It’s not will they happen; it’s ‘how, when, where’ that is experiencing a shift. We’re moving quickly as an industry to help them pivot and prepare.”

Some events might not be possible to cancel, but there are still things you can do to carry on.
Brian Leahy Photography

Jacobs, like many other planners, has gone into crisis-control mode, advising couples to be flexible about changes. Some have helped brides borrow dresses when their original gown shipments were halted, and others have negotiated with venues to decrease change fees. Destination weddings set for European cities are in the process of moving stateside.

Planner Marcy Blum even has an equation for couples to help them decide if they should commence the celebrations: “I recommend that they take a look at their guest list,” she says. “If most of their guests are between 20 and 40 and very healthy—only then would I think the wedding should take place. However, if it’s important for the couple to have their grandparents and older guests there, I recommend the couple reconsider or postpone.”

But if it’s all a go on the planned day, here are some top tips for guarding against COVID-19.

Share the information

Planners are working with couples to add sections to their wedding website and send communication to guests about safety procedures, including washing hands, carrying hand sanitizer, and interpersonal touch. Las Vegas–based event planner Andrea Eppolito has been pulling information from her local health department and discussing it with her couples and their guests.

Make hand sanitizer available

A silver tray full of mini bottles of Purell would surely be a sight, and Jacobs has made this standard for all upcoming events. Plenty of planners shared examples of how to beautifully display bottles of hand sanitizer. You can include them as part of welcome bags or set one at each place setting at the reception tables. New York City–based planner Tzo Ai Ang even suggested monogramming the bottles with the couple’s logo—something she has surprisingly done for a wedding before. (“It was an inside family joke!” she says.) If you can’t get your hands on 200 mini bottles, opt for a sanitizer station, with bulk pumps of sanitizer, wipes, and bottled water, in easily accessible locations for the ceremony and reception.

Brian Leahy Photography

Skip the hugs

As hard as it may be, avoid person-to-person contact. Renee Dalo of Moxie Bright Events suggests getting signs printed that urge guests not to hug or shake hands upon greeting, and Benjamin Chuchinsky of Cafe Wha Entertainment has enacted an elbow pump policy for everyone, including his musicians, other vendors, and any guests.

Get intimate

With states like Oregon and Washington banning events over 250 people, some couples can consider switching to a more intimate affair, says Ira Lippke, a New York City photographer and founder of The Day Collective. That can be with a select group of friends and family or even an elopement. “Once the dust settles, they can have a big party to celebrate with everyone later in the year,” he adds. It’s not unprecedented; this formula is enacted by couples all the time, even without the threat of COVID-19. 

Live-stream it

Eppolito has employed tech to help solve a wedding conundrum: what to do if Grandma and Grandpa can’t fly because of the coronavirus. “I invested in 360-degree virtual cameras that will allow me to live-stream the wedding ceremony, toasts, dances, etc.,” she says of an upcoming celebration. “We are putting together a how-to guide and sending it to the family members who cannot come so that they can still watch and experience the event live.” There are a lot of other options as well, including online streaming services, and, of course, you can always have your cousin run FaceTime on an iPad. It’s not the most elegant, but it gets the point across.

Opt for white-glove service

Everyone is putting on gloves. Numerous planners shared that they purchased white gloves for staff to wear during the event, like valets, coat checkers, and servers passing out drinks—or hand sanitizer. But that’s not all. Daughter of Design’s Annie Lee is preparing for the hora at a Jewish wedding, a traditional dance in which all the guests hold hands in a circle. She’s passing out fancy gloves for guests to put on while they take part.

Brian Leahy Photography

Swap out the buffet or family-style meal

No one wants to put their hand into a cheese station when there’s a risk of coronavirus exposure. One easy way to mitigate this risk is to switch all buffets to plated meals, says Jacobs. During cocktail hour, drop appetizer stations and have hors d’oeuvres passed out on individual plates. Choose a multicourse, plated dinner instead of having guests line up at a buffet or digging into family-style entrées and sides at the table. And think about place settings: At Montage Palmetto Bluff, a resort in South Carolina, glassware is no longer proactively set on the tables, and flatware is rolled in napkins.

Clean the mic

Small tech devices like phones, computers, and car keys harbor tons of germs in general, and that goes for microphones too. Brian Buonassissi, known as DJ Brian B, is bringing along wipes to clean the mics between speeches and performances, an easily overlooked detail, he says. Similarly, Chuchinsky has ordered disposable microphone covers from Amazon for his events. This goes for photo-booth props too, which are now being cleaned between groups to limit exposure when guests don those funny oversize sunglasses.

Keep smiling

It’s a common piece of advice to go with the flow on the wedding day as snafus do arise. Just stay safe and keep smiling. “Don’t let a virus steal this amazing life experience from you,” Lippke says. “It might be different than what you planned, but you might discover that it’s even more meaningful and romantic.”

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