Asking wedding guests to leave their children at home used to be among the thornier requests a couple could make.
Now, Covid precautions are adding more-sensitive appeals to wedding invitations.
Tucked inside embossed envelopes that include dinner choices and directions to the reception, are also politely worded notes telling guests they must be vaccinated, get a Covid test or do both, according to wedding planners.
Couples are not shy about asking guests about their vaccination status, said Jamie Bohlin, a wedding planner and owner of Cape Cod Celebrations in Yarmouth Port, Mass.
“I don’t get an email saying, ‘Should I ask our guests if they’re vaccinated?’” she said. “They just say, ‘We’re asking our guests.’”
In a survey of 1,400 couples last month, 22 percent said they were requiring guests to be vaccinated, according to The Knot, a wedding planning site. That was a jump from the spring, when only 3 percent of couples surveyed said they would make vaccinations a requirement, said Lauren Kay, executive editor at The Knot.
Many couples are setting up mobile testing sites the day before their weddings, informing guests that they will need to wear masks throughout the reception, and providing color-coded bracelets that indicate which guests are fine with hugging and which want to keep their distance, according to wedding planners.
The rules of wedding etiquette are fairly well established. Guests should not wear white dresses. Hosts should provide an open bar. But how does a pandemic affect typical wedding protocol?
“I don’t know that we’ve arrived at perfect etiquette yet when it comes to what to do,” Ms. Kay said. “It’s such a tricky subject and it can be politically charged.”
She said that for now, there is one philosophy that couples and guests should follow: “Be empathetic on both sides.”
When good intentions go awry.
Chris Barry and Bridget Gallagher said they pushed off their wedding twice because of the pandemic. They were eager to get married but fearful for their guests’ health.
Last October, they decided to have a small ceremony in Cleveland and invited about 15 people who live in Ohio.
They told out-of-state friends and relatives to expect invitations to a bigger wedding in 2021, when they hoped the pandemic would be more under control.
Everyone understood, the couple said, except one relative who sent an angry text to Ms. Gallagher telling her he was deeply offended that he had been excluded from the smaller ceremony.
They invited him to their second wedding celebration, on Sept. 11, but he declined, saying he already had plans, Mr. Barry, 38, said.
“He’s written us off,” he added.
It was an upsetting reaction that the couple said they had to absorb as they weighed other decisions, like whether to ask guests to wear masks.
Ms. Gallagher, 37, is a doctor with many friends in the medical field, so she expected that most of her guests would be vaccinated. Mr. Barry said he assigned his sister the task of delicately asking their cousins about their vaccination status.
Sept. 14, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ET
Despite their best efforts to ensure a reasonably safe environment, however, they have had some late cancellations, including a member of the bridal party, who was too nervous to fly from California to Cleveland for the celebration.
“It really was devastating,” Ms. Gallagher said. But she said she knew better than to get offended.
“It is heartbreaking,” she continued. “But I completely understand.”
Who should pay for a Covid test?
The need to make guests feel safe has led couples to get creative, said Ms. Kay, the editor at The Knot.
Many have set up “satellite bars” so guests do not have to stand close together in long lines for drinks. To avoid crowded dance floors, they are providing entertainment at tables, like Tarot card readers, magicians and even aerialists, Ms. Kay said.
The urge to create a safer environment at weddings has also led to more demand for services from private Covid testing companies, which often charge steep fees.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Tests can cost $170 per person, Ms. Bohlin of Cape Cod Celebrations said, adding that couples who can afford these services for their guests are choosing them.
On the subject of whether guests should pay for their own tests, Ms. Bohlin said she was torn.
“If I were a guest at a wedding, I would do it and I would pay for it,” Ms. Bohlin said. “I want to be with the bride and groom to celebrate and they’re providing me with a party at no cost to me. It’s the times we live in.”
One of her clients, Deb Robinson, who runs a human resources consulting firm, said she paid for tests for 16 guests who had traveled from Canada to her wedding in Orleans, Mass., last month.
The tests, however, were not for entry to the wedding. The guests needed them to get back into Canada, which requires proof of a negative Covid test for anyone entering the country.
“For us to expect our guests to come all the way from Canada and jump through these hoops, and then have to go to CVS to get a test?” Ms. Robinson, 57, said. “We thought that wasn’t fair.”
‘Celebration is a beautiful word. Vaccination, not so much.’
Ms. Robinson said she told her guests they had to be vaccinated. Nearly all of them said they were, except for a childhood friend from Florida.
“I said ‘I need you there; I’ve known you since I was 6 years old,’” Ms. Robinson recalled. The friend did not want to be vaccinated, but she agreed to take a Covid test, and at the ceremony, she wore a mask and kept her distance from other guests.
Ms. Robinson said she was grateful for her friend’s general acceptance of the wedding protocol she set up, even though she has still failed to persuade her to be vaccinated. “We love her and care about her,” Ms. Robinson said.
Such conversations can lead to painful rifts, said wedding experts, who recommend that couples be transparent about what they expect from their guests, and the sooner the better.
Valarie Kirkbride Falvey, a wedding planner in Cleveland, said couples should make clear in the invitation if they expect guests to wear masks or be vaccinated. But those requests should be in a separate card in the invitation, like the information about hotel arrangements or the airport shuttle, she said.
“The invitation is a keepsake and it’s very important to stick to exact etiquette on the invitation,” Ms. Falvey said. The invitation is “kind of a work of art in itself, so we try to make it as beautiful and sophisticated and timeless as possible.”
References to the pandemic are not romantic, she added.
“Celebration is a beautiful word,” Ms. Falvey said. “Vaccination, not so much.”