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Is it safe to attend a wedding now? 4 things to consider

"There's so much viral activity going on. To bring lots of people together is a recipe for disaster," one public health expert told TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

Wedding season's already looking a little different this year. Many engaged couples have postponed their nuptials due to the coronavirus; others who don't want to wait are turning to Zoom.

Some couples, however, are proceeding with their weddings during the pandemic, and if you're on the guest list, then you'll face a tough decision: Is it safe for you to go?

As more COVID-19 hotspots pop up across the country, this question becomes even harder to answer, Dr. Howard Forman, director of the health care management program in the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, told TODAY.

"Until a few weeks ago, we were in a much better place," he said. "Right now ... it's hard to even know what states are going to have bad outbreaks just a few weeks ahead of time."

This means that, for most people in the U.S., it's not safe to attend a wedding unless it's "extremely small," Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease physician and professor at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health in California, told TODAY.

"There's so much viral activity going on. To bring lots of people together is a recipe for disaster," he explained.

While weighing your decision, here are a few other things to consider.

Are you traveling?

This was one of Forman's top concerns about wedding season, as COVID-19 rates in the U.S. vary widely by region.

If you live in an area with more COVID-19 spread, Forman advised against traveling for weddings to avoid exposing another community. Also, keep in mind that you may have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival if you're traveling from out of state.

If you're coming from an area with fewer cases, there's still a risk, however, as traveling itself means coming into contact with people at places like roadside rest stops and airports. Forman added that if you choose to attend an out-of-state wedding, driving is safer than flying and that you should consider quarantining when you return.

For weddings in isolated communities with consistently low case rates, if attendees are from that area, then the risk is likely lower, Swartzberg said. But this depends on the size of the gathering and precautions taken — and this scenario doesn't apply to most weddings.

"Individuals who get married and want to have a celebration, which I completely understand, not only put the attendees at risk, but it puts other people at risk from getting infected by the attendees when they go home," Swartzberg said.

What restrictions or guidelines will the wedding follow?

This should be a major consideration for attendees. If you can, find out if the wedding will follow these guidelines, per Forman and Swartzberg:

  • Held outdoors, both ceremony and reception
  • Guests will wear masks and socially distance
  • Less than 10 guests, or less than a quarter of the venue's capacity
  • No buffet (individual meals are safer)

If the ceremony doesn't encourage these protocols, then strongly consider not going.

What precautions are you willing to take at the wedding?

Again, precautions at the ceremony itself are key. As much as possible, do the following:

  • Wear a mask at all times, except when you're eating or drinking.
  • Practice social distancing of 6 feet. Stay even farther apart if you're not wearing masks.
  • Wash your hands regularly. Bring hand sanitizer with you.
  • Clean your hands every time you touch a shared surface, like door handles and tables.
  • Stay far away from people talking loudly or singing, as these acts propel viral particles.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption, as experts have warned that drinking may lead to lowering your guard and ignoring safety protocols.

As Forman explained it, "Think about what you can do to not end up in a cloud of viral particles."

What's your risk and the risk to those around you?

Many people who attend weddings are young and therefore lower risk of developing severe illness from the coronavirus. But even if you're willing to get sick, there are other factors to keep in mind, both Forman and Swartzberg said.

For example, if you live in a home with high-risk people or if you encounter high-risk people regularly, then strongly consider not going. If you're unable or unwilling to quarantine or get tested when you return, then you should also skip the wedding.

If you're 60 and older or have an underlying condition, recognize that most weddings will be high risk for contracting the coronavirus. As Swartzberg said, precautions like masks and social distancing are for "risk mitigation, not risk elimination."

And lastly, know that common wedding activities, like dancing in close quarters, loud talking and singing, can create a "superspreader" situation, where the virus spreads rapidly through a group due to one sick individual.

"I know this isn’t what people want to hear," Swartzberg said. "None of us want to hear this, but we're in the midst of a pandemic."