Skip to main content

Toss that garter. Tear off that mask. It's wedding season in a post-Covid world

caption: Will they or won't they? (Allow gatherings of more than 50 people in time for summer weddings, that is.)
Enlarge Icon
Will they or won't they? (Allow gatherings of more than 50 people in time for summer weddings, that is.)

Many people who delayed big celebrations last year are giving it another go this summer. Social gatherings like weddings and graduations are resuming as more people are vaccinated and Covid restrictions are loosening up. Still, there are areas that remain murky to navigate.

Ashley Townes and Liz Shriver were looking forward to their big day last September: an outdoor wedding at Kubota Gardens in South Seattle, with the reception in Hillman City.

When the pandemic hit, they put their plans on hold. During the pause, they wanted to gauge how people felt. They sent out a survey to assess their guests’ comfort levels about getting together.

Shriver recalled some of the questions in the survey: “’Would you prefer outdoors? Would you prefer being vaccinated first?’ That was more like a survey of what kind of conditions need to be happening in the world for people to feel okay.”

Planning a wedding can be stressful, even under ordinary circumstances. Organizing around Covid added another layer to the planning process. Townes says the survey helped them to get know their friends and families in a different way. And it was fun.

caption: Ashley Townes, left, and Liz Shriver are tying the knot in September after putting their wedding on hold last year due to the pandemic.
Enlarge Icon
Ashley Townes, left, and Liz Shriver are tying the knot in September after putting their wedding on hold last year due to the pandemic.
Courtesy of Liz Shriver

“We were kind of like informal sociologists, understanding our families, how risk-averse they were,” she said. “It was a cool, fun experiment, but it was also helpful in helping us plan our wedding.”

The general consensus back then was that guests wanted to wait to get the vaccine before attending the wedding. Then in the spring, the couple sent out another survey, to check-in again.

“The behavioral change was noticeable,” said Townes. “People felt better about the world. So that gave us hope that we could really pull this off. And that people would show up!”

Townes and Shriver will tie the knot Sept. 5 with 50 guests.

Figuring out how to plan a fun and safe celebration around Covid-19 has also been a challenge. With the state poised to reopen by the end of June, couples are feeling hopeful.

“We all feel both a sigh of relief that it looks like we might be able to gather safely,” said Elyse Gordon, cofounder of Modern Aisles, a Seattle wedding planning company. She says there’s more flexibility these days compared to last year. Even so, wedding vendors and businesses have to comply with state Covid guidelines. As for guests, there are no restrictions — as long as everyone is vaccinated.

But there are still lingering questions, said Gordon. “What if there is someone who is immunocompromised at the wedding and is taking a good faith gesture that everyone there is also vaccinated. But then who’s actually enforcing that, who does it fall to?”

Gordon says for peace of mind, it’s important for couples to be very clear in their communication, which can mean having difficult conversations.

Gordon noted, “It does feel like people are opting in, letting their guests opt-in, that if you’re vaccinated, and feel safe, here’s what we’re going to be doing, we’d love to have you, but we totally understand if this doesn’t feel right.”

Even with adults vaccinated, some guests will have to take extra steps. Jerry Cangelosi, professor at the University of Washington’s Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences department, says children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine should wear face masks. Children may not show symptoms, or get very sick from the virus, but they can still transmit it.

“Their parents should be honest with the guests and the people they’re with [about] where the children have been,” said Cangelosi. “If they’ve been in a bubble, in a pod, or at home. Then it’s not so much of a risk. But if they’ve been in preschool, or have been at summer camp, then there’s more of a risk there, and they should let everyone know about that.”

While vaccination has helped reduce Covid transmission, the virus continues to adapt. So have couples. They’ve have had to come up with contingency plans.

Wedding planners like Gordon say at the end of the day, it’s about prioritizing what’s important. For Townes and Shriver, it’s about being surrounded by family and friends, in-person. And being safe.

“Being safe, but letting loose and having fun and getting down on the grass and dancing,” said Townes. “I don’t want that to be lost!”

Especially after a roller coaster year.

Why you can trust KUOW