About a week and a half ago, Susan Hartle came down with deep fatigue and a dry cough. A COVID-19 test confirmed the worst for the wedding planner, who coordinates events in North Carolina and Virginia.
“To catch it really is shocking to me,” she said. She’s been vigilant about wearing a mask, mostly stayed at home and moved all of her consultations to video. The ceremonies she’s coordinated since the start of the pandemic have been small gatherings, all limited to 25 people — maximum — for outdoor events.
Since her diagnosis, Hartle said she’s begun to have reservations about hosting weddings in general — no matter how small the event. And as Virginia continues in Phase Three reopening, a stage that allows gatherings with up to 250 people, other industry insiders are worrying that weddings will become a new driver for disease.
Under the state’s business guidelines, venues are advised they can host private events if they comply with the recommendations. But wearing masks isn’t included as a guideline for social gatherings, despite the expanded capacity requirements. Interpreting the mishmash of rules and guidelines has become a challenge for the wedding industry, which can bring together many different businesses for a single event — from planners to photographers to florists to venues to caterers.
“There’s a lot of confusion around the guidelines and the executive orders and how they pertain to weddings,” said Sara Kite, who — along with her husband, Jason — owns a wedding planning and floral arrangement company called Faded Poppy in Waynesboro. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve adopted strict COVID-19 policies based on their understanding of the state’s best practices and multiple calls with the Virginia Department of Health. For indoor ceremonies and receptions, that includes a face covering requirement for both guests and the wedding party (though couples can remove their masks for their first kiss).
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.