I have googled these exact phrases so many times the last couple of weeks and have not been able to find anything that puts all of my worries at bay or that has answers to all of my questions. The reality is that even the scientists, doctors, and pandemic specialists are making projections based on data modeling, and many of their projections turn out to be wildly inaccurate. No one has a clear answer to what things will look like in June, July or even December 2020, and to put it in the simplest terms; it sucks! This pandemic is wreaking havoc on our health, safety, economy, and sanity and it is taking away so many things that our generation never could have imagined. I never thought I would live in a time where leaving my house to get a coffee would require donning a mask, avoiding all people, and rushing back into my 700 square foot condo as quickly as possible, but here we are. Of course, there is always someone who is in a worst predicament than you. I really feel for anyone who is struggling to make ends meet, has lost a job, is dealing with domestic abuse in the home, is considered an essential worker and fears for their safety and health everyday at their job, or is someone who has contracted the virus or had a family member perish from the virus. All of this being said, I know personally that this pandemic is causing so much anxiety for so many couples that have been counting down to special dates in 2020. This all seems very personal and it is an emotional rollercoaster from day to day. As a wedding planner in the Washington, DC area, but also as a bride who was expecting to walk down the aisle in June; this year has been a whirlwind - and not in a good way.
It all started in early March when I was at work at my corporate job. I started to hear rumblings around my office that the firm was preparing some guidance regarding the coronavirus. Up to this point, I had seen some of the news reports, but was totally unconcerned. It was downplayed in the news and seemed like just another virus that would have minor impact and effects. Soon, the rumblings were becoming more urgent and within a couple of days, my firm was testing out taking the whole organization virtual. I left the office on Wednesday, March 11 and I have been working remote ever since.
As a super type A bride, I had already sent out my wedding invitations for my June 7, 2020 wedding date at the beginning of March. We were in the final stretch and it was all becoming very real and exciting. We were making final payments, selecting all of the final details, and then in a blink of an eye it was all gone. The RSVP cards stopped coming back. Guests who had already RSVPed started to reach out about whether we would still be having our wedding in June. It just didn't feel real, and at the time it didn't seem like this paused existence could possibly last until June.
We tried to stay optimistic, but then Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam instituted the Shelter in Place order through June 10 for the entire state... 3 days after our original June 7 wedding date. Part of me still wanted to hold on to our date and see how things would play out, but the other side of me who works in the DMV wedding industry knew we were fighting against a ticking clock. As anyone who has gotten married in this area knows; venues and vendors book up fast! Hence why we had already been planning this wedding for two years when this happened. I knew if I wanted any chance of getting a new date in 2020, I had to act fast, and I had to be strategic to keep my vendor team intact. I also had to book around all of my couples' weddings I had already booked throughout 2020.
I must give a huge shout-out to all of my vendors and my venue who were so easy to work with and we literally had the whole thing rescheduled within 24 hours. We had gotten a new date of Friday, August 28 and we were ecstatic. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could once again be excited for my wedding.
Fast forward to now, (just a mere 3 weeks later) and I am totally contemplating if rescheduling in 2020 was a good idea. I have scoured the data, watched hours of press conferences, cried, gotten excited, and honestly just gotten more confused the more information we get.
Wedding Planning during COVID-19
As a planner, I am fielding questions almost everyday about what my couples should do about their 2020 weddings. I wish I had a clear, fact based answer I could give them. Even though there are no clear cut answers, there are now some plans and guidelines in place that couples can use to make informed decisions. The new phased plans put in place by the Federal Government, Virginia, Maryland, and DC have given me some insight, but there are still a ton of variables at play. I have been following Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's plan the closest because 1) he laid it out so beautifully 2) he gave the most useful information and 3) My wedding is Maryland, so that is the guidance I am personally most concerned about. The full roadmap can be found here; however, I have also outlined the phases below for this post. DC, Maryland, and Virginia have all stated they plan to reopen together, so the below Maryland plan should be very similar to what we see in DC and Virginia.
The initial phase, is not really a phase at all but more of a "gating process" in order to enter phase 1. Maryland needs to show a downward trend of new cases and hospitalizations for 14 days. This has not been met yet. Today is April 29, so given we still need 14 days to enter Phase 1, we can optimistically estimate that at the earliest we may reach that phase is on May 15.
Phase 1 in Maryland is defined by resuming activities that are considered to be low risk. It is not completely clear how long this phase will last until we may be able to move into Phase 2. The biggest point I want to raise is that in Phase 1, quality of life will be improved, but I do not see the possibility of weddings or other social events in this phase. My recommendation for May and June brides is to strongly consider postponing their weddings at this point in time.
Beyond lifting the “Stay-Home” Order, other examples of changes that could be implemented in this stage:
a. Small shops and certain small businesses may open
b. Curbside pickup and drop-off for businesses
c. Elective medical and dental procedures at ambulatory, outpatient, and medical offices
d. Limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings
e. Recreational boating, fishing, golf, tennis, hiking, and hunting
f. Car washes
g. Limited outdoor gym and fitness classes
h. Outdoor work with appropriate distancing measures
i. Some personal service
If at any point during phase 1 cases begin to spike or other warning signs occur the before mentioned easing of restrictions may be revoked.
“Stop Signs” requiring the easing to slow, stop, or even be reversed:
a. An unexpected increase in hospitalizations or a sustained increase in cases requiring intensive care.
b. Indications that Marylanders are disregarding physical distancing guidelines. If people can maintain physical distancing for this period while we ramp-up testing and contact tracing, we have a much higher chance to open without a spike in cases.
c. Significant outbreaks of community transmission (not clusters or outbreaks in particular nursing homes or vulnerable communities) where contact tracing cannot establish the route of the spread. A sustained increase in cases over a period of five or more days may require the reimposition of some prior restrictions.
Phase 2 shows some promise for the ability for life to return a little bit more to normal. However, until the social gathering capacity restrictions become more clear, it would be very risky to plan to have an event in Phase 2 in Maryland.
This will likely be a longer stage of the initial recovery, but will also be the stage when a large number of businesses and activities come back online. Any businesses that reopen during this period will need to comply with strict physical distancing and appropriate masking requirements. The stage includes numerous steps over many weeks towards recovery.
The phrases I have bolded above are very important to note for any couples contemplating a wedding in late June, July, and maybe even August. In theory, you may be able to have an event, but what will that event look like? Are you going to be happy if your guests are physically separated by 6 feet or required to wear face coverings? I would also think many catering companies will be restricting what food service will look like; buffets, family style service, self serve stations, would not be something I would recommend in this stage.
This stage also contemplates the Governor again allowing some county health officers and local governments that meet appropriate gating criteria, and acting within parameters set by the Administration, to determine if it is appropriate to resume specified commerce and other activities within their jurisdictions. Within this Stage, there will be sub-phases with capacity restrictions, again set by the gating protocols.
Examples of changes that could be implemented in this stage:
a. Raising the cap on social gatherings (YAY! But we need a number!!)
b. Indoor gyms and fitness classes
c. Childcare centers
d. Transit schedules begin returning to normal
e. Indoor religious gatherings
f. Restaurants and bars with restrictions
g. Elective and outpatient procedures at hospitals
Phase 3 includes the more ambitious and long-term goals. There is no realistic timeline yet from any of the scientific experts for achieving this phase, as this requires either a widely available and FDA-approved vaccine or safe and effective therapeutics that can rescue patients with significant disease or prevent serious illness in those most at risk to reach a full return to normal conditions.
Commerce Industry Recovery Advisory Groups will submit “Safe Reopen Plans” for each sector of the economy designated as high risk for COVID spread. The plans will be carefully reviewed and vetted by our Maryland Strong Recovery Team to determine if it meets both public health and commerce needs. Like with the medium risk stage, the high risk stage will also have sub-phases with capacity restrictions/gating.
Examples of changes that could be implemented in this stage:
a. Larger social gatherings (Yayy! But again, we need a number!)
b. High-capacity bars and restaurants
c. Lessened restrictions on visits to nursing homes and hospitals
d. Entertainment venues
e. Larger religious gatherings
Advice for couples, given the above framework
May & June Weddings: Postpone May & June Weddings. Everyone's situation will be different. If you are okay with some restrictions in place at your wedding you may still be able to have a late June wedding. However, I feel the safest route at this time is to reschedule so that you aren't forced to make a decision with your date only a few weeks away if things do not improve or worsen.
July Weddings: Make a decision about July Weddings by May 15-June 1 (Depending on when your event falls in July).
August Weddings: Make a decision about August Wedding by June 15 -July 1 (Depending on when your event falls in August). I am obviously still holding out hope for my own wedding in August, and from information I have gathered from other vendors, they also feel optimistic. Scientists have discovered that the virus has a much shorter half-life when it is exposed to high temperature, sunlight, and humidity which could be promising news for events later in the summer if the virus spread is reduced by these environmental factors.
Summer 2020 Weddings: If you are going to risk holding onto your Summer date, consider whether or not you will be okay if certain restrictions are in place for your event (i.e. face coverings, social distancing, food service restrictions, guest count restrictions).
Timelines for postponing: My timelines for making a decision may seem close to your wedding date, but things are changing so quickly that I would hate for couples to make a decision too early and regret making a knee-jerk decision. I know many couples feel an urgency to let guests know, but I think most guests understand that this is an unprecedented time and are aware that changes may be happening. I do not think anyone will be shocked if you change your plans for your wedding date regardless of when that change is made. Guests are anticipating changes at this point. I am very interested to see what the next few weeks bring as certain states ease restrictions and testing ramps up. I would recommend adding a statement to your wedding website that says you are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and if you decide to postpone your wedding, you will let everyone know by a specific date.
Fall 2020: At this point, most vendors, venues, and couples are feeling optimistic about Fall 2020, but I would advise all couples to keep an eye on the news. Reach out to your vendor teams now and come up with contingency plans. It has been stated quite a few times that we may not return to normal until a vaccine is readily available which may be up to 18 months from now.
Are you rescheduling right now? If you are currently rescheduling your wedding, I would highly recommend moving to 2021 and beyond. 2020 has very limited dates available and there is still a lot of uncertainty. I regret moving my wedding by just a few months and wish we had just waited a little while longer to find a new date and pushed to 2021. I have accepted that we may need to limit our guest count and that some restrictions may be in place for our late August wedding. I am hoping we will not have to postpone again but 2020 has proven to be the year of unexpected turns and I have not been very good at judging the plot twists so far so only time and science will tell.
Other things to consider when making the highly emotional decision to postpone your wedding
1. Everyone's health and safety - especially your elderly guests. Are you prepared to put loved ones at risk?
2. Would your guests be comfortable attending such a large gathering?
3. With many people currently out of work, would your guests be financially stable enough to make the trip to your wedding after barely getting back to work?
4. Are you okay with having to downsize your guest count if the ban on large social gatherings has not been lifted by then?
5. Have you had to cancel any other wedding related events? If you have, is the memory of having to do this going to affect your happiness leading up to your wedding?
6. Weddings are really expensive. Are you willing to still spend the money but not have the wedding exactly as you envisioned it?
7. Are you willing to wait to have the wedding you want; or proceed to have the wedding coronavirus is forcing you to have?
Please keep in mind that I am a wedding professional and I do not know what is to come, I am doing my best to use the data and guidelines to advise my couples.
We will get through this and people will be allowed to gather again. Marriage is ultimately the commitment of two people, which is definitely not cancelled! I am still optimistic we can get this virus under control in 2020 and still salvage some of the later 2020 weddings! The biggest thing people need to do now is follow the guidance so that we don't have issues later. The better we can contain the spread of this virus the more chance we have of things resuming to normal.
If you need help planning your wedding or rescheduling your existing wedding; I am here to help! Please contact me today to learn about special rescheduling packages I am offering to couples affected by Covid-19. Also, if you just want someone to talk to please contact me. I know how alone you can feel during these times and I'd love to try to help you!
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Owner & Lead Wedding Planner
Kolena is a wedding planning professional with over 10 years of experience. She owns and operates Blue Sapphire Events a boutique wedding planning firm based in Arlington, VA.