Back in April, a woman married a cardboard cutout…sort of. The couple had gotten married in a small ceremony in 2021, but due to COVID, they waited until 2022 for the reception. Three days before the big day, the husband tested positive. Instead of postponing, he “attended” the reception as a life-size cardboard cutout and virtually on a screen. The story was so quirky that national news outlets picked it up, but it begs legitimate question: What do you do if you or someone in your wedding party gets COVID days before the wedding?
First, it's important to consider the most recent guidelines around COVID. In August of 2022, the CDC released updated guidance stating that those who have been exposed to COVID no longer need to quarantine; instead, they should wear a mask in public and test after five days. Of course, no one wants to be sick on a wedding day or possibly get others infected as well.
“It's not just making rain plans anymore. We’re having to make COVID plans,” says Fallon Carter of Fallon Carter Events, and it's a statement pretty much sums up wedding planning in the pandemic era.
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What Should a Guest Do If They Test Positive for COVID Before a Wedding?
Both Carter and Annie Lee, founder of Plannie and principal planner at Daughter of Design, have had instances of guests testing positive for COVID ahead of a wedding and not being able to attend. For Carter, it was a destination wedding for which testing was required to enter the country. Ultimately, how you handle the situation will depend on the timing of the positive test and the guest's role in the wedding.
For Lee, this breaks down into a few different tiers:
Regular guest: This one is a “no brainer,” she says. Don’t go if you test positive.
Key guest: It gets trickier when a bridesmaid, groomsman, parent, sibling, or best friend tests positive. In this case, Lee’s first move has been for the guest to get Paxlovid (a Pfizer drug used to treat symptoms of high-risk COVID) if they can, which can help them recover faster. It’s important to note that “rebound” COVID cases have been reported after the use of Paxlovid, which means that patients have had a resurgence of symptoms or a new positive test after having tested negative, so monitoring symptoms and re-testing is key.
If the guest feels well enough—thanks to Paxlovid or otherwise—Lee suggests getting creative with safe ways for them to attend. She says they should wear a mask, stay at a distance from other guests, and leave after the key moments (ceremony, first dance, speeches). She recommends couples and planners “front load” the wedding with events in an instance like this so that that key person can be present for all the big moments while staying for the least amount of time possible. Afterwards, “pack them a to-go meal and send them off,” she says.
What Should a Bride or Groom Do If They Test Positive for COVID Before a Wedding?
The worst case scenario is that one or both people in the couple not only tests positive, but also feels very ill. In this case, there would be no choice but to cancel or postpone (unless you choose the cardboard cutout route).
Prepare to Lose Deposits
At this stage in the pandemic, vendors and venues are no longer being as lenient as they once were with cancellations and postponements. Because the industry was hit so hard, it’s just not sustainable. “Cancellation policies are not as loosey goosey anymore," says Lee. "When you reschedule, you get what happened in 2021. I did double work to make up for canceled 2020 weddings, and it blocked me from taking additional work. I lost out on new clients."
So, when canceling days in advance, chances are you will be losing deposits. Carter recommends keeping this in mind when creating your budget. If you are canceling 72 hours in advance, chances are flowers and food have already been ordered and you will have to eat that cost (no pun intended). She suggests asking vendors upfront about their policies and perhaps even asking your venue if you can schedule a backup date in advance.
What Lee suggests when this happens is to donate everything to a local charity. Not only will you be helping the needy instead of wasting everything, but it becomes a tax write-off. And, while, ideally, the reasons for altruism should not be selfish, the reality is that losing out on deposits can be a big financial burden for many. This is one way to offset that and do something good at the same time. Another option, she says, is to work with your planner and see if a vendor might be able to transfer services to another event happening that day. This would not work with food or flowers, but could work with something like a photo booth. “If a vendor is cool with showing up at Hilton instead of the Marriott—as long as they get their balance they don't care,” she says.
In Carter’s opinion, postponing is the only thing to do if the couple tests positive. Lee sees this as an opportunity to take a creative approach. Assuming the couple feels well enough to attend, it's possible to isolate them from the rest of their guests by creating what Lee dubs "a COVID bubble," allowing them to attend the celebration but keeping them at a distance from the guests. For example, they would have a sweetheart table for dinner, wear face shields, and have an outdoor ceremony where the guests are seated further away than usual (microphones could help here). The officiant would need to wear a mask and the wedding party would not stand with the couple.
Unfortunately, they would not be able to hug guests or interact in close contact and would head out after all the main events, leaving guests to enjoy the dance floor after dinner. “It’s sad,” says Lee, but it’s a way to avoid the disaster that is canceling at the last minute. Of course, guests should be notified in advance so that anyone who is uncomfortable can opt not to attend.
Speaking of telling guests, this is a very important element of canceling or postponing a wedding. When it needs to happen within a couple days of the wedding, it can be a major inconvenience for anyone who has traveled or already paid for travel. Lee suggests telling any out-of-town guests (which could be everyone if it’s a destination wedding) first so they can cancel their hotels, which generally have at least a 48-hour grace period. If you reserved a room block, talk to the hotel ahead of time to find out what the cancellation policy is—this may be another deposit you have to lose.
As for air travel, if guests booked non-refundable tickets, they will be at the mercy of the airline in terms of getting credits for future travel. Lee has had events get canceled and some guests decided to take the trip anyway, but that would be up to each person. If you do end up postponing a destination wedding at the last minute, it would be polite to consider re-planning locally or making sure that most guests were able to get airline credits so they would not have to pay for travel again on the makeup date.
The most important thing, whether it’s a destination or not, is to make sure that every single guest invited gets the news that the wedding has been canceled—you don’t want anyone showing up all dressed up to an empty venue. Lee suggests dividing and conquering by splitting up the guest list among the couple, parents, wedding party, etc. This way, instead of sending out an email blast, you can try and reach out to each person individually thus assuring they get the memo.
Avoid Getting COVID Before Your Wedding
Of course, the best thing to do would be to avoid getting COVID in the first place. At a recent wedding Lee planned, two guests wore masks the whole time because their own wedding was the following weekend and they could not risk getting sick. A soft quarantine three weeks ahead of the big day and wearing masks in public like this couple did are best practices. “Do all the things of 2020,” says Lee.