By May 1st, we can expect to see many states in the Midwest reopening under Phase One of the federal Reopening Plan. What does that mean for the wedding industry? Let’s take this phase by phase.
Under this phase, many restrictions will remain in place, severely impacting the wedding event planning industry. Phase One – much like most of the past two months – is not kind to the wedding industry as only very intimate weddings with very limited, personal interaction with guests will be permitted. First, vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and those individuals considered high-risk due to Individuals with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy , should continue to shelter in place, thus severely limiting the participation of relatives in many of these special events. Further, non-essential travel remains banned under Phase One, thus making it impossible for those non-local family members to come from out of state to attend the event. Couples should consider the availability and use of technology to live stream or record their event for these family members viewing if they do proceed with the event. Second, it is unclear if state, local and private venues will permit groups of more than ten (10) people to congregate, as Phase One restrictions continue to restrict groups of more than ten (10) people from congregating if the venue cannot operate under strict physical distancing protocols. That means venue owners will be obligated to ensure that guests are maintaining social distancing throughout the event, regardless of the familial relationship of those in attendance as it would be impossible for them to know who is a member of what household or not. For many business owners, this responsibility will cause them to shy away from if not flat out cancel events under Phase One precautions. Why? Almost 95%+ of business insurance policies will not cover losses for venues who either are shut down by local authorities for failure to enforce local or state orders concerning social distancing and/or for losses the venue may incur should there be a Covid-19 outbreak following a wedding event where the venue was unwilling or unable to enforce these strict protocols. In fact, the federal government guidelines specifically called out “receptions” as a social event to avoid because of the difficult with avoiding appropriate physical distancing. Phase One weddings will continue to raise a serious public health concern unless kept to a group of ten and under persons who are practicing social distancing, and couples and venues alike should consider whether this type of setting is the one they wish to flex to for this event. While it certainly presents the couple with a once-in-a-lifetime unique way to mark the occasion, and maybe that excuse to have the small intimate wedding your parents or partner wouldn't let you have originally, it may also leave something to be desired for those who were hoping for a big wedding filled with toasts and dancing.
Phase Two will come into effect after Phase One has led to a sustained decline in positive Covid-19 results following a twenty-four (24) day period. Again, all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place. However, under this phase, non-essential travel may resume, which means those family and friends from out-of-state will be permitted to attend without a hindrance. Furthermore, we can expect that settings of 50 or less people may congregate without strict enforcement of social distancing guidelines, although they would still be encouraged to practice moderate social physical distancing protocols. However, social settings of 50 or more people where social distancing cannot be practiced should be avoided unless precautionary measures such as masks and sanitizing stations are provided.
Approximately six weeks after a state sees a continued decline in COVID-19 cases (no rebounds), as well as meets essential criteria, they may proceed to Phase Three. Low risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments. Vulnerable individuals may now resume public interactions, while practicing social distancing. This is where large venues may operate under limited physical distancing protocols, with still caution being given that high and low risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
The Wedding Industry in the Time of Covid
Even with the Reopening of America, couples, venues, and planners alike should be cautious about proceeding with weddings over the next few months as the restrictions will likely continue to change rapidly. The best laid plans can be changed on the turn of a dime. As such, couples looking for the safe route should consider rescheduling weddings into the late summer/early fall or into 2021. If the delay is too much to fathom, then couples should consider paring the wedding down to eight guests and otherwise recording or live-casting the event for their friends and families to watch from the comfort of their homes and reconvening in the future for a reception to celebrate and relive the event together in person. Finally, venues should consider revisiting their contracts and insurance policies. What obligations are you under to continue forward with the event? If you wish to continue forward, do you have adequate staffing trained to enforce social distancing standards? Do you have the right type of insurance to cover losses should someone fall ill following an event at your venue? How can you work with the copule to set the tone and expectations for guests as we work into Phases Two and Three where the guest number increases yet the social distancing requirements remain? There are several factors to consider on both sides of the equation, and now is a time for the vendors, planners, and couples to work together to start discussing ideas – collaboratively – to find common ground sooner rather than later in the process so that all sides may find a resolution.