AUSTIN (Texas) — By the first of the year, Chelsea Chan and her fiance had their entire wedding planned. They’d picked a date in August of 2020, chosen a special venue and signed all the contracts.
“We were just kind of sitting pretty, waiting for our wedding to come,” she said.
Then, coronavirus changed everything.
“Right away, we were really concerned,” Chan said. “We are having a large wedding. It’s 200 people. I think the majority of people are from out of town.”
It was a tough decision, but ultimately the couple moved their event to 2021.
“This year is just not the right year,” Chan said, noting that she feels lucky all of her vendors were able and willing to rearrange their schedules for their new date. She knows that’s not the case for every couple.
KXAN started looking into the story after a viewer reached out with concerns about a family member forging ahead with a July wedding.
“They are following through with all of that because they haven’t been told otherwise,” she said.
While couples with events planned for the spring had to move or cancel their events altogether, under stay-at-home orders, this viewer worries her family member “didn’t have much of a choice” other than to move forward — because of a new exemption.
Last week, Governor Greg Abbott instituted a mask mandate for people in public and a ban on outdoor gatherings over 10 people. Austin-Travis County leaders followed with their own local orders soon after. In both cases, though, weddings are exempt from the restrictions, as long as they follow certain other guidelines.
- Outdoor venues should be used when possible
- Weddings held inside a facility other than a church are limited to 50% of the total listed occupancy of the facility
- Employees and contractors of the wedding venue are not counted towards the 50% occupancy limitation
- All employees and customers must wear a face covering (over the nose and mouth) wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another individual not in the same household
“How do you handle all the vendors and issues that were signed, sealed, dated, sometimes over a year ago?” she said. “It’s an event that consists of several hundred people coming from all over the United States — flying in, driving in.”
She said she understands it’s her choice to come, as a guest, but wished the state or local guidelines were more clear. She’s asking: “What is a ‘recommendation’ or what is a ‘requirement?'”
She gave one example: “The bride was told only the employees at the venue have to wear masks, since the event is outside.”
Public health expert and clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin Marilyn Felkner said officials are weighing a lot of factors when they decide on exemptions to order like this one.
“I think the Governor has been very careful to walk that line between disease control and freedom of religion, and I think weddings are probably under that umbrella,” she explained.
She referred to COVID-19 transmission guidance released by the Texas Medical Association, that places ‘attending a wedding’ at a moderate to high risk level.
She noted that several other activities that happen during wedding celebrations, like ‘traveling by plane,’ ‘hugging or shaking hands,’ and ‘eating at a buffet’ are also noted as moderate to high risk activities.
“If you are face-to-face, or if Uncle Charlie is giving you a big ole kiss on the cheek, it doesn’t matter if you are indoors or outdoors,” Felkner said. “Once people get together and start talking, they start moving closer together. That’s where wearing masks gives you that added layer of protection.”
She emphasized that while there are rules and guidelines put in place, much of the personal responsibility falls on the couple, the guests and the vendors.
“You have to say, ‘What am I willing to give up, in terms of my perfect day — in order to make sure it’s a happy day. Something you look back on with happiness and pleasure, rather than, ‘Oh, I caused a COVID-cluster in my family,'” Felkner said.
Whim Hospitality, who offers catering, rentals and floral services for events, said they are helping couples either reschedule for a new date or work through these adjustments.
“It has really been a roller coaster,” CEO Kim Hanks said.
They are located in Dripping Springs, considered the Wedding Capital of Texas. Hanks explained that most of their wedding guests are coming in from out of town — meaning that many of them are unable to attend at all.
Hanks said many clients are choosing to downsize their events, instead putting their budgets toward creating a special experience for their immediate family and closest friends. Many are planning to live-stream the event for people who are unable to attend.
“Their event is going to be different, but so many of the important elements will be the same. They still have delicious food, they still have flowers, they still have a lot of the same people that are going to come,” Hanks said. “People want to follow the rules, but they want to know that there’s a path forward.”
They’re helping created signage to remind people about social distancing and keeping their face coverings on.
With the first wave of clients, who were affected by the first stay-at-home order in Texas, Whim rescheduled their events for the latter half of 2020. Hanks said for clients who may not be feeling comfortable moving forward with a fall wedding, they’re offering dates in 2021.
“We are trying to be as flexible as we can,” she said. “We love weddings, and we are going to make it beautiful for them. It’s our job.”