Monday, March 08, 2021

COVID-19 Testing at Weddings: What You Need to Know Now

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If you’re a New York-based couple planning a wedding right now, chances are, you’ve heard the news that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has officially announced that wedding receptions of up to 150 people, or 50 percent of the reception venue’s capacity will be allowed so long as there is proper testing in place ahead of the event. This is huge and unexpected news for the countless engaged couples who have had to cancel, postpone, or put their wedding plans on pause over the last year. In addition to restored hope and anticipation, the recent ruling, which will go into effect on March 15, 2021, gives direction to couples and vendors on how to conduct safely a traditionally sized wedding.

While this news is most certainly a welcomed wave of normalcy in comparison to what weddings have looked like in the past 12 months, it is unfortunately not the finish line of the pandemic, notes Robert Hess III, M.P.H., public health expert and founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hess III Consulting, LLC. “Couples will still need to uphold other COVID-19 prevention measures, even at their wedding receptions, including masks, physical distance, and handwashing, which will make weddings look different this year,” he says. “This doesn’t factor in the new variants which are rapidly evolving and should be heavily considered as part of planning.” 


The process of carrying out a wedding that follows all of the stipulations put forth by this government ruling is also incredibly complicated. “Firstly, all events must be approved by the local health department, which means that guest safety will be monitored to ensure these weddings are being mindful of COVID measures and keeping all the guests as safe and healthy as possible,” explains Tory Smith, wedding planner and owner of Smith + James Events in Los Angeles. “It is important to remember that someone will need to monitor all the guests' test results, making sure they are all negative, as well as the fact that any guests who test positive will need to stay home and quarantine.” Smith also urges the importance of realizing that safety is paramount when it comes to these events. “It’s not just like they’re opening the floodgates back up,” she adds.


If you are eager to participate in the opportunity to have an actual wedding with 150 or fewer friends and family members, what do you need to consider pulling it off successfully—and safely? Here is an expert guide to what it will take to have a COVID-conscious wedding under the new stipulations.


What to Do Before the Wedding


Planning a wedding mid-pandemic means more logistics. And with new regulations, such as those recently announced by Cuomo, couples are now required to take additional measures, such as getting event approval and providing COVID-19 testing for an extended guest count.

Photo by Laura James from Pexels

Get Your Application into the Health Department ASAP

Before you adjust your plans in the slightest, the smartest move to make is to reach out to your local health department to get approval to host your wedding should the number of people you intend to invite be greater than 50. “Health departments are woefully understaffed and burnt out, so it may take longer than you anticipate to hear back,” notes Hess. If you have not heard back within the expected timeframe given upon your application date, he recommends following up weekly. Once approved, make sure to keep track of whatever approval documents they give you so that you have them handy on the day of your wedding. 


Determine How Many People Will Be Allowed


"Reach out to your venues sooner rather than later to confirm the maximum capacity of the reception space that you have booked and divide that number in two to confirm how many people the new maximum will be," explains Oniki Hardtman of Oh Niki Occasions. As for the number of people: Do not forget to account for the venue wait staff and all of your vendors. "Ask each vendor how many people will be on their team the day of the wedding – for instance, photographers often have two to four people on staff depending on your package," Hardtman suggests.


Reassess Your Budget


Before you figure out the intricacies of COVID-19 testing, you will want to consider whether your budget will allow you to accommodate the process for all guests, or if you will be putting the cost and responsibility of testing on each attendee. According to Hardtman, the most economical way of being tested is through state-approved sites that are open and available to the public. If the cost of testing is a concern for you, consider making testing the responsibility of your guests. If you take this approach, we recommend researching testing sites in your area and recommending the most cost-effective options (at an Urgent Care facility or your local CVS store, for example). For detailed information about testing in New York, visit here.


Rumor has it that states will be releasing a system to ensure that all guests are accounted for and tested (similar to contract tracing) but details are not yet known, says Hardtman. This burden will probably fall on the couple and/or their planner. "At this point, we honestly need to wait and see but any couples that are not working with a planner should get very comfortable with spreadsheets to account for guests and their testing status," she says. "Your wedding planner or venue coordinator may need to dedicate a coordinator specifically to keeping track at the door of who has confirmed their testing status."


Photo by Tim Mossholder

What to Ask of Your Guests


While this is your wedding, every person in attendance will have to abide by the rules you and your state set in place. "If you have decided to require testing or if your area requires testing to attend events, no guest or vendor should be able to attend without providing clear negative results," Smith says.


Set Clear Expectations


For this reason, it is important to be direct with your guests. "Make sure you are very straightforward in what is required to attend the wedding," Smith says. "It's a big ask but it's important to protect all your loved ones and the vendor team. Be sure you are giving plenty of time, do your local research on options for testing, make the time window clear, and require each guest to forward on their negative results."


Distribute Cohesive Messaging


To help organize and mobilize guests to be tested before the event, the more information you can give, the better, according to Smith. She recommends sending out an informational email as well as putting thorough testing instructions and detailed safety measures on the wedding website. “Answer as many questions as you can so you're not inundated with a flurry of questions from your entire guest list,” she says. “The more information you give, the fewer questions you'll have to answer and the less overwhelmed you will be.”


If Necessary, Encourage Safe Travel


Cruz recommends encouraging guests to attend remotely if they would need to travel from out of town. However, if travel is essential, there are extra precautions that can help limit the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 on the way to the wedding. She adds that if guests test before traveling, their tests are essentially void because they risked exposure during the travel process. "Remind guests that they will need to quarantine in advance of the event and near the destination to mitigate risk, and then test for the most accurate results," she says. Travel should be well thought out and planned well in advance—at least three days before the event, according to Hess. “Driving is ideal since you can minimize human contact, but if flying is required, guests should review their airline’s travel guidelines and bring hand sanitizer and wipes in their carry on so they can wipe down surfaces,” says Hess. He also recommends renting a car versus relying on ride-sharing services and staying in a hotel versus staying with family. “Hotels have strict guidelines they follow and air conditioners for each room, which means you won’t be sharing air with everyone else in the building,” he says. “Home-sharing services, like Airbnb, are more difficult to ensure the host is the cleaning and sanitizing effectively, but of course is another option.”


What to Do on the Wedding Day

After all the pre-planning and approvals, additional safety measures will need to be taken on the day-of. You will want to discuss these in detail with your venue and team but we have one key message for everyone: Even with extensive testing, couples must enforce safety measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing at a gathering of this size, especially if it is indoors. "It may be a good idea for the wedding party to ask someone to be what we call a 'COVID Compliance Officer,'" suggests Debiec. "Imagine a groomsman or bridesmaid just for COVID—this may not sound like a very unpleasant job but all they would be doing is making sure everyone follows the rules of masks and possibly wiping down all things that could be touched quite a bit during the wedding."


A Few Other Recommendations? 


You can create punny signs that outline any sort of guidelines, add COVID-friendly items to swag bags, and acknowledging that just by showing up, your guests have done so much work to be part of your special day. “Lean on your vendors for expert advice as to what is realistic and best practices for bringing your as-close-as-possible vision to life while executing a seamless, safe event,” he says. “Breathe, be patient, embrace creativity, and wash your hands.” The World Health Organization has declared the current outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic.

Photo by Neal Cruz from Pexels

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