Given the many 2020 wedding celebrations that were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, people’s calendars may be extra stacked this summer through next year.
As the number of vaccinated Americans goes up and COVID-19 case numbers go down in many parts of the country, invitations are starting to arrive in mailboxes once again. Things are moving in the right direction, but we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. Deciding which weddings to attend in the coming months — and how to do so safely — is still a concern.
“Although things are opening up and there is light at the end of the tunnel, this is not the time to drop your guard,” etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, told HuffPost. “We all still need to be cautious.”
Here’s what you need to consider to make an informed decision about which invitations to accept and which to decline.
Attending a wedding is still a risk. But how risky it is depends on a number of factors.
Here are some things to consider before RSVPing “yes,” according to Dr. Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship for Keck Medicine of USC, and according to the updated guidance from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Is it an outdoor event or an indoor one? Risk of transmission is nearly 20 times lower outside than it is inside. If it’s indoors, you’d want to know if it’s a more spacious venue that would allow for ample social distancing and if the space is well-ventilated (for example, are there open windows and doors to increase airflow?).
How many guests will be in attendance, and how many of them are vaccinated? Smaller guest counts pose less of a risk than larger ones. And the more fully vaccinated guests, the better. Note that the CDC continues to advise against large gatherings, but does not provide numbers for what constitutes a “large” or “small” event. Your state or city, however, might have more specific guidance in place.
How long is the wedding? Whether inside or outside, the length of the event should also be taken into consideration, especially if it’s a more crowded setting where maintaining 6 feet of distance between you and the other guests may be difficult. “When you’re going to be in long-term close proximity with other individuals is when your risk — even in outdoor settings — goes up,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Jarod Fox previously told HuffPost.
Is the couple asking guests to wear masks? “Are they considering masking a requirement except in areas where the group is outdoors and will be distanced?” Nanda asked. Keep in mind that even if the couple is encouraging guests to mask up ahead of the event, it’s hard to know whether people will actually keep them on during the festivities.
How many COVID-19 cases are there in the area? “High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the event location or the locations the attendees are coming from increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees,” the CDC website reads.
How many people are traveling from out of state or out of the country? This is important given the surges happening in different parts of the world, Nanda noted.
What’s the seating arrangement? Ideally, you’d want to be at a table large enough that everyone can spread out a bit, not where you’re sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other guests. Also, see if you can be seated with members of your household or other close contacts that you know are vaccinated and have been playing it safe in the days leading up to the event, Nanda said.
How can you get this information from the couple?
Couples may have the answers to these safety questions (and others) listed on their wedding website, printed with their save-the-date or invitation or summarized in email updates to their guests. So check those places first. But if they don’t — or if you need additional information — don’t hesitate to ask.
If you’re close with the couple, it’s OK to direct your questions to them, Gottsman said. People getting married during this time should be considerate of their guests’ concerns.
“Your friends will not be offended, and will probably completely understand, but you want to make sure and have an upbeat tone of voice and a conversational discussion as opposed to sounding put off by their invitation,” she said.
“Say something like, ‘Thank you so much for thinking of us. Are you planning an indoor or outdoor ceremony and reception? I know it’s going to be beautiful either way but we’re still playing it safe for the time being and masks and social distancing are still really important to us.’”
“Although things are opening up and there is light at the end of the tunnel, this is not the time to drop your guard.”
– Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert
However, if you don’t know the couple very well (say it’s your friend’s son getting married, for example) then you may not feel comfortable reaching out to them directly. In that case, ask another guest who’s closer to the couple — like the groom’s parents or someone in the bridal party.
And be aware that public health guidance is constantly shifting so some of the safety details may change as the wedding date approaches.
“Keep in mind there are no 100% guarantees, as the bride and groom may change their mind as the months unfold,” Gottsman noted. “If you’re still concerned as the date approaches, you can check in with your friend once again.”
Remember, it’s OK to decline the invite for any reason.
You may determine you can’t attend the event, either because of health concerns or simply because you have too many weddings in too short a time. If that’s the case, remember it’s totally fine to RSVP “no.” Just do it as promptly as possible.
“If you know you are not going, or you are on the fence and simply can’t make up your mind, it’s better to err on the side of caution,” Gottsman said. “Let your friends know you won’t be able to attend but you look forward to getting together with them in the future. Thank them for their understanding.”
There’s no need to apologize profusely or make a huge deal out of it, either. But do send the couple a congratulatory card and a gift from their registry.
“It will be appreciated and lets them know you are supporting them in spirit,” Gottsman said.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.