Weddings could be safe this spring and summer, experts say - here's how to go about it

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Weddings could be safe this spring and summer, experts say - here's how to go about it
Lindsey and Danny Chase with their full wedding party.Kristen Gardner Photography
  • The CDC still advises against large events, but there are ways to keep weddings relatively low-risk.
  • Experts recommend a local, outdoor ceremony.
  • Buffet-style meals and group transportation should be avoided.

By August of last year, Lindsey and Danny Chase knew it was time to abandon their dream of a church wedding with 200 guests. Coronavirus cases were on the rise in Alexandria, Virginia, where Lindsey works as a sales manager in the tourism industry.

"The pandemic wasn't really slowing down, and we knew that there were restrictions in Virginia and in DC about how many people could be at a private event," she told Insider. "We just decided not to take our chances."

The couple opted for a small outdoor ceremony at an estate with just 11 guests, followed by a reception in their backyard.

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"I don't have one bad thing to say about our experience," Lindsey said. "It really gave us the intimacy that we really wanted, but probably weren't going to have with an over-200-person wedding."

Seven months later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises against large events of any kind - but there are ways to lower the risk of transmission at a wedding, like the Chases did. Here are experts' tips for a safer ceremony and reception.

Keep everything outdoors

Weddings could be safe this spring and summer, experts say - here's how to go about it
The Chases' outdoor ceremony.Kristen Gardner Photography

Emily Gurley, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said an outdoor wedding with lots of room for people to spread out would be the safest option.

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"It's not the wedding [couples] have in mind for sure, but that would make it lower risk," she told Insider.

Avoid destination weddings

Experts said it's best to have a wedding locally, at a time when transmission is low. A good sign that the virus isn't spreading widely, according to World Health Organization, is when fewer than 5% of coronavirus tests come back positive for at least two weeks.

Lindsey Chase said she chose a few local vendors she trusted. Danny is Greek, so they had Greek food catered at the reception, and they hired a photographer to take pictures. Danny's father got ordained so he could officiate, further lowering the total number of people at the ceremony.

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Masks, masks, masks

Weddings could be safe this spring and summer, experts say - here's how to go about it
The Chases' photographer wore a mask.Kristen Gardner Photography

Guests should wear masks at all times if they're going to be within six feet of each other, experts said.

In August, an indoor wedding reception in Maine where guests weren't wearing masks was linked to 177 coronavirus cases, including seven deaths.

Tailor the venue size to the guest list

Experts generally recommended keeping weddings as small as possible: 10 guests is better than 50, they said, but 50 guests is better than 100. Some experts even said they would feel comfortable attending a 100- to 150-person outdoor wedding this summer if most of the attendees were vaccinated.

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The CDC also has some helpful tricks for accommodating more friends and family.

First, consider a bigger venue so people have room to distance. Next, consider staggered arrival times: Family members could mingle at cocktail hour first, for example, followed by friends. Couples might also consider a "hybrid" attendance arrangement, where out-of-town guests watch the ceremony on Zoom but local guests attend in person.

If you're an in-person guest, try not to crowd the restroom, and stand six feet apart from others in any line.

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Skip the self-serve buffet

Weddings could be safe this spring and summer, experts say - here's how to go about it
Guests celebrated with a champagne toast.Kristen Gardner Photography

Communal meals are particularly high-risk, since they require people to take off their masks. For that reason, experts said, it's better to serve bite-sized snacks and avoid buffets.

"I would keep it to something more like cocktail and appetizer, rather than the big sit-down, close-to-each-other dinner," Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at University of Florida, told Insider.

The CDC also recommends that guests limit their alcoholic drinks so they don't become lax with safety practices once tipsy.

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Ask guests to get tested

"I would certainly recommend that you tell folks to get tested before coming to the wedding," Prins said.

Guests should also quarantine roughly two weeks before they arrive. If someone tests positive, Prins said, they shouldn't attend.

Lindsey said her parents and sister, who live in Florida, all got tested and quarantined before driving north to her wedding.

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Encourage people to arrive separately

That bus you were planning to take with the whole wedding crew? Not a good idea, according to the CDC. The agency recommends that guests drive to the ceremony alone or with members of their own household.

Lindsey said her parents and sister drove from Florida to Alexandria, packing meals at home beforehand so they wouldn't have to stop at restaurants along the way.

Prepare to contact trace

Even the most cautious couples should prepare for the possibility that some guests get sick, experts said.

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"If someone calls you in the next week and says, 'Oh my gosh, guess what? I actually had COVID while I was at your wedding,' then you might want to help with some contact tracing," Prins said.

She recommended compiling a list of each guest's personal information in case health authorities ask for it.

Lindsey said she and Danny "were prepared to give that information if needed - but nobody ended up getting sick from our wedding."

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