bride and groom kissing under umbrellas with guests wearing masks watching
Jamie Vester Photography Design

The recent announcement by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo that weddings of 150 people will be allowed provided that everyone be COVID tested prior is huge for the countless couples who’ve had to postpone or pause their wedding plans. It’s also a giant leap of faith for the many wedding vendors who have worked tirelessly with their clients to bring their wedding-day dreams to life.

And according to the WeddingWire Newlywed Report, nearly half of couples who planned on getting married in 2020 have rescheduled their reception to 2021—so this year is shaping up to be a busy one. Couples are eager to gather and celebrate with loved ones, and after the year we’ve all had, who isn’t?

Finally, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel—not only with Cuomo’s recent announcement and the influx of scheduled 2021 weddings, but also with the COVID vaccines being distributed across the country. It begs the question: Will life resume to normal in the near future, and if so, what does that mean for your wedding?

The answer isn’t so simple. “Government health experts are confident that the vaccine will be available to anyone who wants one by this fall, but how quickly everyone in the U.S. who wants a vaccine can receive one will depend on how quickly vaccines can be produced, distributed, and administered,” says Kayla Percy MSN, MPH, CPNP-PC, RN, a Consultant for Hess III Consulting and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Chiricahua Community Health Centers. And to date, only a fraction of the U.S. population has been vaccinated—use this tracker from The New York Times to check vaccine rollout status in your area.

There are a few reasons why the vaccine will not negate the need for health and safety measures, according to Niket Sonpal, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. “First, it is going to take a while to widely vaccinate the entire country due to shortages of vaccines, and even then it takes a minimum of 80% successful vaccinations through the country to achieve herd immunity,” he says. “Secondly the data on the new variants of COVID-19 and how they relate to the current vaccinations are not fully understood.” 

Another point Dr. Sonpal makes is that, with the varying numbers of people getting the vaccine and at different times, you can't predict which of your guests is protected—and if there are other people in their lives who are not yet vaccinated and may still be susceptible to COVID. “Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective, so you should continue to take recommended precautions to avoid infection.”

All this being said, there are ways to host a beautiful wedding and keep your guests safe. Remember that the vaccine rollout just began, and these are the measures to take now. What guidelines and safety measures will need to be in place 6 months to a year from now are still unknown, so it's important to lean on local guidelines as well as your team of wedding vendors.

Follow local regulations. 

It probably goes without saying, but it’s essential to keep up to date with your state and local gathering restrictions—while some states are allowing larger gatherings, others are not there yet. If possible, it’s smart to keep social distancing measures in place by either having a smaller guest list or opting for a bigger space to make social distancing doable. 

Avoid self-serve options. 

To pull this off, you may have to hire more staff to help serve buffet foods or individual plates, but Percy says doing so is absolutely worthwhile. This will help reduce the transmission of germs from touching hot-spot surfaces and still allow your guests to enjoy a nice, seated meal. Ask your caterer or banquet manager for recommendations, as they are likely well-versed in food safety guidelines. 

Reconsider that seating arrangement.

“Coordinating your seating arrangement for family and friends that are already in a ‘COVID bubble’ will also help to reduce risk and stress,” says Percy. “Consider small tables, with no more than 4 people at each one, to help reduce risk.”  

Mandate the wearing of masks.

Yes, even if everyone is vaccinated. And consider purchasing masks in bulk in case any guest forgets to bring one. “Wearing masks will make it safer to have your loved ones on the dance floor together,” says Percy. “This is also an opportunity for you to choose masks that match your color scheme or decorate the masks specifically for your wedding.”

Be flexible. 

“This is a philosophy that any skilled planner has in their back pocket at all times and it applies even more so in this climate,” says Gary Guerin, C.F.D., owner of STEM SWAG in Phoenix. “Due to COVID-19, there’s an increased risk of guests unable to attend last-minute and a myriad of other things that could get derailed.” What you don’t want to do: stress yourself out double planning every single detail, Guerin notes. Instead, just be open-minded to the fact that not everything will go as planned. 

Expect the unexpected. 

As with any undertaking including a large group of people, there's bound to be some hiccups, and more than likely everything won't go according to plan, notes Guerin. “You're going to need to build a buffer in your timeline, have systems for checks and balances (to responsibly track vaccination status), and be patient,” he says. “Getting your guests to send their RSVPs back pn time is a feat in itself so imagine the coordination this task will take.” If you haven’t hired a wedding planner, you might consider doing so (even just for the month of your wedding) to assist with all the last-minute details.

Be compassionate. 

Yes, it is your special day, but Guerin reminds couples to think about the big picture: times are tough and the pandemic has affected us all differently. “From health to finances, we'll all be dealing with the ripple effects of COVID for quite some time,” he says. “If guests can't attend or aren't comfortable, don't take it personally—even if they are in good health and fully vaccinated, they may have loved ones they are tending to, childcare is unavailable, or perhaps they just can't afford travel expenses after being strapped over the last year.”