Randall Hunt and bride-to-be Koel Bose were getting dressed for their Los Angeles wedding on Saturday morning when their phones buzzed. Some very close friends were letting them know they wouldn’t be attending after all — they were concerned, like people around the world were, about the risk of catching the coronavirus by attending a large public event.
The couple, both 28, rushed to make yet another adjustment to their seating chart. Some 300 people were originally supposed to attend. In the end, fewer than half showed.
“It was stressful,” said Hunt, a software engineer for Amazon Web Services. “At that point we were too far gone to postpone or reschedule.”
Hunt and his new wife had spent more than $60,000 on the wedding and could not get a refund from the hotel for the March 14 event — a date chosen because it was Pi Day. Desperate vendors also pleaded with them to go ahead as they were the only couple who hadn’t canceled, he said.
So they had hand sanitizer stationed at every entrance and pushed the tables and chairs farther apart. Few guests shook hands and instead greeted one another by tapping elbows. Some posed for photos with Corona beers.
“Anytime someone saw someone coughing, everyone would turn and everyone’s heart rate went up a little bit,” Hunt said.
As the coronavirus pandemic radically alters every section of the global economy and forces billions of people around the world to change their daily routines, many are also being forced to make agonizing decisions about upcoming celebrations and major life events, including weddings.
Late Sunday night, the CDC advised that all weddings, concerts, festivals, and other events involving more than 50 people be postponed for the next eight weeks to try to stop the virus from spreading. On Monday, President Donald Trump urged Americans to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10. Health officials say so-called social distancing should help decrease the number of new infections and lessen the strain on the country’s health care system.
There were approximately 23,000 weddings scheduled to have taken place in the United States this past weekend, according to the Knot, a popular wedding-planning website. For many of them, the health guidance arrived too late to call off the big day.
One couple, who asked to remain anonymous as they feared backlash, married in Connecticut on Saturday and paid the final deposit for their roughly $80,000 wedding the day before guests started canceling. They initially had 180 guests RSVP, but more than 60 didn’t show on Saturday.
“It’s pretty brutal to have the drip-drop of last-minute cancellations over the course of a week that’s already pretty stressful,” the bride told BuzzFeed News. “We are just hugely thankful for the people that made it.”
“If we had had the wedding on March 7, I suspect we would have had almost full attendance,” said the groom. “If it were a week later, the ability to move — it would have been far more available to us.”
The couple said they were understanding of people’s decisions not to attend and held no resentment. They, too, agonized over the decision but had already spent thousands and didn’t want to hurt the small business vendors and their staffers.
“To be candid, we had mixed emotions about this too, and it’s pretty heartbreaking to have mixed emotions about what’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life,” the groom said.
Hunt, the Amazon software engineer who married in Los Angeles, was less sympathetic to some of his guests who canceled on his wedding. “I was most disappointed in the guests who only had to drive a few miles,” he said. “The folks who had to fly in had a legitimate reason to be concerned in my opinion.”
The coronavirus pandemic was also discussed at wedding reception tables outside the US over the weekend. David Alire, 45, attended a traditional Mexican wedding Saturday near the city of Puebla with his boyfriend. They dined on chicken with mole sauce, drank tequila and beer, and danced to a mariachi group and other bands. But something was always at the back of his mind: “I was pretty conscious and aware from start to finish, and I was washing my hands constantly. I was trying to be a little more distant than I normally would,” he said. “Hearing every cough and sneeze, my head turned.”
Alire, who works as a reporter for Reuters in Mexico City, said he believes many Mexicans haven’t yet registered the scale and dangers of the pandemic. The country only has 50 confirmed cases so far and zero deaths. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has continued to hold political rallies and was shown on the front page of a Mexican newspaper kissing a toddler on the cheek.
At Saturday’s wedding, Alire watched as the bride and groom kissed and hugged dozens of well-wishers outside the old Catholic church in the town of Cholula. They posed for dozens of photos standing alongside family members and friends. Later at the wedding banquet venue, the roughly 350 or so guests had to get close to one another to converse over the loud music. “I remember thinking, I’ll be close, but I’ll try to keep my mouth and nose away and maybe let someone talk into my ear,” Alire said. “There’s probably a risk there, of course.”
In Costa Rica, 31-year-old Ronald celebrated his best friend's wedding at an outdoor venue northwest of the capital, San José. He uploaded photos to his Instagram story of the celebrations but said he didn't receive any positive interactions.
“Some people even judged me, so I felt a little bad about the irresponsibility of attending an event like this,” he said. “But it was my best friend, so I was not missing it.” (Ronald asked to be identified only by his first name because he didn’t “want the couple and their families to be judged.”)
One guest who had been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19 was asked not to attend the function, Ronald said. He also tried to avoid a woman who had just returned from Disney World in Orlando. But as he drank more alcohol over the night, he forgot the rules he had set for himself.
“I personally washed my hands quite often, but no one kept distance, especially when booze kicked in,” he said. “Staying distant at a Latin wedding is quite hard.”
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It’s not just guests and couples who are feeling the effects of the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak, like it has in other sections of the economy, is expected to have a profound impact on the wedding industry, which is worth $100 billion a year.
“The wedding industry is obviously enormous,” said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor-in-chief at the Knot, “and there’s about 1.8 million weddings that happen every year. So that’s a ton of money. A ton of people that are impacted by this.”
Ryan Hamilton, a 38-year-old real estate agent in Phoenix who earns extra money officiating weddings and DJ'ing at ceremonies, performed two marriages on Sunday. One was a smaller wedding for two women in a family home with around 10 guests. He was careful not to shake any hands — even to congratulate the brides.
“I came in and said, ‘I’ll bump elbows with you guys, but we are not shaking hands or hugging,’” he said. “It caught everyone off guard, but it’s just what we’re doing.”
Hamilton’s other ceremony was a larger, more traditional wedding with 75 invited guests — but a couple dozen people stayed away on the big day. “It was definitely noticeable in the seating,” he said. “As I was standing there, looking out, I could see a large number of empty seats.”
At the entrance to the venue was a huge bottle of hand sanitizer. “Everyone in the wedding party was camped out by it and squirting it on their hands every few minutes,” Hamilton said.
He is now debating if he should still work any upcoming weddings taking place during the pandemic. He fears especially picking up the coronavirus and spreading it to his three young boys or his wife’s parents.
“If I do it, I’m going to tell them that I’ll come in five minutes before it starts, I’ll do the ceremony, sign the paperwork, and leave,” he said.
Other wedding providers are also anxious about the months of uncertainty ahead.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow on all sides,” said Fernando Serrano, a 34-year-old DJ in New Jersey who said he has two upcoming weddings that have been postponed. “All the vendors attached to the events are going to suffer losses and disruptions to their business. This is technically peak booking season for weddings and we have seen a dramatic decrease in bookings for our remaining 2020 dates and beyond.”
Lauren Kiedrowski, 24, and her fiancé, 23-year-old Evan Warner, made the difficult decision to call off their wedding, which had been planned for March 21 in their town of Rochester, New York. The pair had been expecting about 80 people to attend.
“Our venue was OK to go ahead, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said. “I didn’t want to still have it, then have somebody get sick at our wedding, because I would just feel so guilty. I couldn’t have that on me.”
The high school sweethearts had been planning the wedding since their engagement in December 2018. Just last week, Kiedrowski picked up her white dress.
“I cried when I bought it, and I cried when I picked it up — because that’s when it started sinking in we were actually getting married next week,” she said. “Now it’s not happening, so it just feels weird.”
Kiedrowski is just one of more than 845,000 couples whose weddings between March and May will be impacted by the outbreak, according to data from the Knot. Maxwell Cooper, the site’s editor-in-chief, said she had heard of some couples opting for smaller, at-home ceremonies to be followed by the reception they had long planned.
She advised couples whose weddings will be affected to talk to their vendors or wedding planners to set a future date, review contracts with a lawyer if necessary, and be communicative with guests whose travel plans will need to be altered. She also suggested couples find a way to celebrate the day, albeit in a smaller, more intimate way.
“I think couples understand that it’s impacting the whole world, but it’s still a very disappointing and upsetting time for many couples and it’s OK to feel sad,” she said.
At the wedding for the unnamed couple who got married in Connecticut, guests dined on burrata, steak, and salmon; they danced to a live seven-piece band, and they signed coasters with advice for the newlyweds. But guests also were encouraged to use sanitizing wipes throughout the venue, as staffers wearing gloves served and cleared plates at tables that were spread out as much as possible. Leftover food for the no-shows was donated to a homeless shelter. The couple also refrained from touching some friends and family members who expressed a desire to maintain distance as much as possible.
After a week of stress planning and reading news nonstop about the virus, the couple left their phones behind and enjoyed their day as much as possible.
“I think we had a wonderful day,” the bride said. “The wedding — except for the cancellations and the virus — went off without a hitch.”