Planning a wedding during COVID? Our health reporter bride shares expert advice on what works


As a national health reporter, I’ve spent the past two years writing about the coronavirus pandemic.

In between tracking COVID-19 cases, talking to experts and poring over pre-print studies, I’ve also been planning my wedding.

Like many “Corona Brides,” I decided on a longer engagement hoping the pandemic would retreat once vaccines arrived. Surely, things would be mostly “back to normal” by May 2022, right?

Wrong. Things are looking better from when my fiancé and I got engaged in the summer of 2020, but the country is still far from “normal.”

Many Americans remain unvaccinated and are unwilling to mask up in indoor public places, leading to more transmission and cases. The virus has been trickier than expected, mutating into variants that can partly escape immunity from previous infection and the vaccine.

Riding one COVID wave after another – and keeping an eye on the calendar – has been nerve-wracking.

I’m not alone. Nearly 50% of couples said COVID-19 was one of the biggest challenges of the wedding planning process, according to a survey of 15,000 couples conducted by The Knot in 2021. About 85% of couples incorporated at least one health and safety measure into their wedding; the average was three. More than 60% of ceremonies took place outside.

This spring, my fiancé and I are right there with them. We are navigating families with different approaches to the pandemic and taking precautions. We don’t want our special day to be marred by an outbreak and put our loved ones in harm’s way.

With our Big Day less than two weeks away I turned to health experts for their advice on how to host a COVID-safe wedding. I hope you find it as helpful as we did.

Can I ask wedding guests to get vaccinated?

Health experts say an emphatic, “Yes!”

Couples are within their right to ask the vaccination status of their wedding guests or require proof of vaccination, especially if older or immunocompromised guests are expected to attend.

“The main thing to let guests know is that you and they are going to need to be flexible,” said Dr. Kristin Englund, an infectious disease expert at the Cleveland Clinic. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to currently ask the vaccination status of your guests or require that they be vaccinated.”

Wedding etiquette also says it’s okay to require guests to get vaccinated, said wedding expert Emily Forrest, director of communications at Zola, a wedding planning site that supports couples throughout their journey from engagement to newlywed life.

Couples should follow vaccination and booster recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said, and check with their vendors on requirements that may be in place.

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“Under certain circumstances, such as guests who do not wish to follow the safety protocol put in place, it’s OK to let them know they’re unable to attend,” she said. “Just make sure to let those guests know as soon as possible in a kind and honest way.”

Dr. Manoj Jain, adjunct assistant professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, said he required wedding guests be vaccinated for his daughter’s January wedding attended by nearly 400 people.

He communicated vaccination expectations along with other COVID-19 mitigation measures through Zoom calls weeks before the wedding. Unfortunately, two of his guests refused to get vaccinated and his daughter disinvited them.

“There were a lot of people – including my parents – who felt that I was overdoing this,” he said. “My daughter called them and said, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come.’ I thought that was very courageous.”

If the couple is expecting unvaccinated guests, Englund recommends seating those guests together at the same table instead of intermingling them with vaccinated or immunocompromised guests.

Should all my wedding guests wear masks?

In general, the CDC says, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors.

The agency’s indoor masking recommendations are based on COVID-19 Community Levels, which are determined by a county’s hospitalizations and new cases in the past seven days.

In counties that have “low” community levels, residents don’t need to wear a mask indoors. For those who live in counties with “medium” levels, the agency recommends wearing a mask indoors when around others who are immunocompromised.

People who live in counties with “high” levels should wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, according to the CDC.

Studies show masks mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, and most health experts recommend them in all indoor settings. But they may be impractical during weddings, one health expert found from personal experience.

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Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean of public health integration at Michigan State University, attended a late November wedding in Wisconsin with many medical and public health professionals. The wedding made headlines after 12 guests tested positive for COVID-19.

About 100 guests attended the event. All wore masks throughout the ceremony, which took place in a church, but at the reception, she said, the masks came off and stayed off.

“At some point during the event, I looked around and nobody that I could see wore masks,” said Furr-Holden, who was one of the first guests to test positive the week following the event. “The thing about masks is that they work the best when everyone has one on and it’s impossible to eat or drink with a mask on … You sort of lose the benefit of masking.”

What’s the best way to test for COVID before a wedding?

Testing was an integral part of Jain’s strategy for his daughter’s 400-person wedding.

Guests coming from out of town were required to take a rapid test no more than 24 hours before traveling to the wedding. Upon arrival, they had to take another rapid test and a PCR test within six to 12 hours turnaround time.

Guests who lived nearby were required to take a PCR test 24 to 48 hours before the wedding or come to the hotel venue a day before to get free testing.

Most labs return PCR results within one or two days, but as the “Dr. Fauci of Memphis,” Jain had access to labs, tests and an entire medical team to carry out his plan.

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Most Americans aren’t so privileged, but that doesn’t mean testing can’t be incorporated into a wedding’s COVID strategy. Couples can ask guests to test 24 to 72 hours before coming to the wedding, said Englund from the Cleveland Clinic.

While this may reduce the risk of someone bringing the virus from their hometown, it’s still possible for someone to contract it while traveling – especially after a Florida judge struck down the travel mask mandate that was extended by the CDC. The Justice Department said Wednesday it will appeal the ruling after the CDC determined the mandate is still needed. But as the judicial process plays out, passengers don’t need to wear masks on public transit.

“It’s difficult to tell when and how anybody gets this coronavirus. Was it at the wedding? Was it on the airplane, in the airport?” Englund said. “There is never any guarantee. But you can put together as many precautions as possible and be able to find joy in your event.”

It’s also important to encourage testing a few days after the event, health and wedding experts say, and be transparent with guests if anyone begins exhibiting symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19.

Other tips to hosting a safe, COVID-free wedding

Vaccines, masks and testing aren’t the only mitigation strategies couples can take at their wedding to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, health experts say.

Hold any or all events outside, if weather permits, they recommend.

A study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2021 suggests fewer than 10% of global COVID-19 infections occurred outside. The same study found the odds of indoor transmission were nearly 19 times more likely than outdoors.

“Trying to have everything at an outdoor venue makes things so much easier,” Englund said. “Offering drinks outside may encourage more people to wander outside.”

Fresh air is constantly moving outside, which disperses respiratory droplets that could contain the virus that causes COVID-19 and reduces the risk of infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. If the wedding is inside and it’s not too cold, health experts recommend keeping windows and doors open to increase ventilation.

Forrest encourages couples to work with vendors on ways to mitigate COVID-19 risk. Talk to the caterer about a plated dinner option instead of buffet to discourage crowds of people in one place. If there’s only a buffet option, ask if food can be served so guests aren’t touching the same serving utensils.

“Consider your wedding vendors to be your teammates,” Forrest said. “Talk to them about any concerns on your mind. They’ve likely heard it before!”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wedding planning during COVID: What a health reporter bride learned


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