Explaining the latest guidelines for weddings and receptions

Last week, Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton released a new health advisory, called Ohioans Protecting Ohioans, that relaxes many of the restrictions put in place since mid-March to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

While wedding ceremonies have been exempt from group size restrictions since they were first enacted, receptions have been limited to just 10 people—and ceremonies were encouraged to follow that same guideline. These limitations and concerns about the coronavirus have led many couples to alter, postpone or even cancel their spring and summer 2020 weddings. They also have left couples and their families wondering just what is allowed, and what they might be able to get away with.

Take, for example, an email Columbus Weddings received in mid-May from a man whose son was getting married over Memorial Day weekend. The outdoor wedding was anticipated to have 50 to 55 guests, the father of the groom wrote, which was permissible under the Stay Safe Ohio guidelines. “After the wedding ceremony, we would like to have a sit-down dinner including drinks/bar at the venue site,” the father wrote. “Is this still ‘legal’? If not, is there a way to make it legal and still ‘safe’?” He went on to ask if keeping the minister on-site during dinner would make the event still technically a ceremony, not a reception. (For the record, our official response advised against trying to use such a technicality—which we could not find confirmation of—to skirt the spirit of Gov. Mike DeWine’s guidelines.)

Such quandaries were clarified on Thursday, March 21, when Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced that catering and banquet centers—that is, wedding reception venues—will be permitted to reopen on June 1. These venues will be subject to many of the same guidelines that restaurants must follow—namely, increased social distancing and decreased physical contact.

Under these new guidelines, tables at wedding receptions must be at least 6 feet apart and can have no more than 10 people at each; congregating (including dancing) is prohibited; and the number of guests, including the couple and their wedding party, cannot exceed 300. Buffets are permitted only if served by staff, with 6 feet of social distancing between parties. Employees of the venues will be required to wear face coverings, and guests will be encouraged to do the same. You can find the full list of guidelines here.

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But just because Ohioans can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. Acton’s Ohioans Protecting Ohioans advisory states that while we have “flattened the curve” through social distancing and other measures, “it is incumbent upon Ohioans to protect Ohioans … the coronavirus is still with us, it is still dangerous and deadly, and at no other time in our lives will our individual actions play a greater role in saving the lives of others.”

The advisory also notes that the coronavirus is becoming one of the leading causes of death in the state, with the death toll due to COVID-19 exceeding 1,600 Ohioans from all 88 counties at the time of its release. You can find the full advisory via this story from our sister publication, The Columbus Dispatch.

So, what does that mean for engaged couples in Central Ohio and beyond?

We know that every wedding is unique—the dozens of features in our pages and on our website are testament to that. It’s one of the wonderful aspects of weddings in Central Ohio, but it also makes a blanket recommendation impossible. Below are our recommendations on what you should consider for your upcoming wedding, based on current guidelines, established best practices, questions from readers and feedback from local vendors.

First and foremost: Consider wedding insurance.

For many, insurance was not a priority before the coronavirus pandemic. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t find it necessary when planning my own 2015 wedding. But with so much uncertainty in the air, it’s beginning to look like an investment worth making. This is not the same as liability insurance, which some venues require. Rather, wedding event insurance protects couples in the even that their wedding plans unexpectedly change.

To be clear: It is unlikely that pandemic-related cancellations or postponements will be covered by most insurers, as it is now considered a “known” situation. But the protection should remain in place if the bride and/or groom falls ill enough to require a postponement or cancellation or passes away; if a key vendor, such as a venue or caterer, goes out of business before the wedding day; or a number of other potential scenarios that are currently more likely than ever. Be sure to ask for specific details on what is and is not covered before you purchase this protection.

Just as important: Consider your guests.

While your wedding will almost certainly be one of the best and most exciting days of your life, remember that your guests will be tempering their enthusiasm for your big day with concerns for their own safety—and you should do the same.

Remember that many aspects of wedding receptions, such as bar service, milling about during cocktail hour and dancing after dinner, remain prohibited. Gatherings of more than 300 for a reception remain prohibited as well. So if your dream is to have a blowout bash and all-night party, you likely won’t be able to achieve it in the near future.

One option could be to proceed with your wedding now, and plan a separate celebration with drinks and dancing in the future, perhaps on your first anniversary. The immediate ceremony could be private, like the one held by this local couple, or it could include your full guest list.

If you choose the latter, encourage guests to wear face masks. You could even set out a basket of disposable or cloth masks for guests to take advantage of, similar to the flip flop baskets that many couples set out during receptions. You should also encourage appropriate distancing between groups of guests that are not members of the same household. And because some guests may opt to stay home rather than risk exposure, even for an occasion as joyous as a wedding, definitely look into live-stream options through Facebook, Zoom, Google Hangouts or another platform to allow at-risk guests to enjoy your ceremony in real time.

Finally: Consider your vendors.

Chances are, many of your wedding vendors are small businesses. In the case of your photographer or DJ, they might even be a sole proprietorship—a business of one. The coronavirus pandemic is difficult for everyone, including wedding vendors, whose livelihood has all but dried up during the statewide stay-home orders of the past two months. Before you ask for a refund, consider working with your vendor(s) to seek credit for a future date.

Our reporting indicates that most—if not all—Columbus-area vendors are working with couples to reschedule plans, often without additional fees. If you’re not comfortable proceeding with your wedding plans, take advantage of this generosity! And if you are proceeding as planned, or with alternate plans, make sure you’re doing due diligence to protect your vendors just as you’re protecting your guests. Encourage mask use by vendors and guests alike. Ensure that hand sanitizer is readily available throughout your venue(s) and that social distancing is easily achievable.

And remember, recent encouragement to “support local” extends beyond locally owned restaurants and shops; it includes wedding vendors, too. Do your part to support our local wedding industry by paying your deposits on time and tipping generously, when appropriate. (Find tipping guidelines here.)

Do you have a question about how to navigate wedding planning in the era of COVID? Email editor Emma Frankart Henterly at ehenterly@columbusweddingsmag.com.