Olivia Proper has been planning her wedding for the past year and a half. The 26-year-old had grown increasingly excited about her April nuptials over the past few months — that is, until the coronavirus hit so close to home.
"Once the virus hit the NYC area, we started to discuss the impact it may have on our event. And by March 12, we knew rescheduling was inevitable," she told TODAY Style over email. "We have a lot of family and friends traveling from California and Florida, as well as elderly guests, and we believe this is our only option so as not to expose our loved ones to the virus."
Proper is one of many brides and grooms making the tough decision to press pause on their big day as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States. It's an unexpected but understandable part of the "social distancing" mandate health experts are urging as an effort to contain the virus.
In recent weeks, many states have begun to ban large gatherings in an effort to get better control over the spread. Overnight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines urging the public to cancel or postpone any events of 50 or more people (weddings included) for the next eight weeks.
That has left many couples scrambling and pondering the same questions. Wedding website The Knot is even offering a 24/7 hotline to help couples navigate the crisis. A representative for the website told TODAY that the hotline received more than 100 calls, 3,000 Instagram comments and hundreds of DMs asking for help last night alone. (If interested, you can call at 833-998-2865 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Should I cancel my wedding due to coronavirus?
In their new guidelines, the CDC cites that large events (such as weddings) can contribute to the spread of the virus and says the new recommendations are intended to "reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus."
Wedding vendors are typically booked months in advance, so changing your wedding date last minute can often be tricky. Luckily, Proper's vendors and venue have been pretty understanding. Still, the couple has come across one issue: available wedding dates are few and far between at this point.
"We were extremely limited in options and had about four dates to choose from, which were all Sundays in late fall and winter of 2020/2021. Originally, we had planned for a Saturday wedding in early spring," she said.
The decision to cancel or postpone can be difficult for a variety of reasons. CNBC reporter Christina Farr and her fiancé, Jarred Colli, went back and forth on whether to postpone their May 10 wedding for two weeks.
"At one point, we thought we might go ahead with something on the intended date in May, but with reduced attendance. We didn’t want any of our attendees in the high-risk category, especially grandparents, to feel any obligation to be there. So we sent out a note letting them know," she told TODAY Style via email.
Once the couple saw the updated CDC guidance Sunday night, they decided to postpone their big day.
"We sent out an email to guests last night and thankfully we’re hearing that most of the airlines are offering flight credit. All the responses so far have been very understanding, and our guests have offered to fly out at a later date once things settle down. We’re gutted, but it’s the right thing to do. Now, onto Plan B," she said.
For now, the couple are leaving their options open.
"We may still tie the knot sooner rather than later, but we’ll still figure out a way to mark the occasion with a big celebration. Your community will understand, and they’ll be there to support you," she said.
Should you plan a legal wedding ceremony for now?
The CDC also offered some advice for couples who choose to go through with their celebration on the original date.
"Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene and social distancing. When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual," the new guidelines read.
Couples like Arielle and Justin Haenel chose to get married legally now and save the big affair for later. The couple planned to tie the knot on Saturday, March 14 in front of family and friends, but opted instead to get married by a justice of the peace and postpone their larger celebration.
“We really started to worry last week. We had no intention of canceling or postponing, but this is when the public was starting to think more about it,” the bride, 27, told TODAY over the phone. “Then one of my bridesmaids called and said she works with someone who tested positive (for COVID-19). Plus, this bridesmaid’s husband was supposed to be our officiant.”
Since they were only a week away from their big day, the couple had already completed most payments and the food had already been ordered for their reception. But they felt strongly that they wanted to do their part to prevent the spread of the virus. “We sat and we cried and we went through every possible scenario and we decided it was best to postpone,” she said.
Although the ceremony was different than they'd originally envisioned, it was still a special day for the couple. “It was honestly very beautiful, even though it wasn’t at all what we had planned. We didn’t want the situation to affect what this day was supposed to be about: love," she said.
Coronavirus wedding insurance: Am I covered?
If a couple decides to postpone their nuptials, Kristen Maxwell Cooper, editor-in-chief of The Knot, recommends taking action quickly.
"As soon as a couple decides to postpone their wedding, the first people they should contact are the ones tasked with making it happen. Their wedding pros should be understanding of their decision and can help provide additional guidance on next steps, from securing a future date to contacting guests," Maxwell Cooper said.
Of course, couples should also carefully review any contracts they've signed and understand if they are entitled to a refund.
"One clause to look out for is force majeure — which may relieve your vendors from performing contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond their control — but this is contract specific and subject to interpretation, so talk to your lawyer if you have questions," Maxwell Cooper said.
Wedding cancellation insurance can always help, but many couples don't purchase it. If you're one of the lucky few who did insure your big day, now's the time to consult your plan and contact your insurance agent to confirm what is and isn't covered.
Should I attend a destination wedding during coronavirus?
With cases of the coronavirus spreading across the nation and globe, the thought of flying to a different state or country for a wedding is causing many people to reconsider their travel plans. Add growing travel restrictions into the mix, and it's not surprising that many wedding guests are making the difficult decision to miss out on loved ones' weddings.
At the end of the day, both the couple and their guests have to weigh the risks and make an informed decision based on their current health condition before committing to travel.
"The safety of you and your guests should be a top priority, so we recommend checking guidance from relevant authorities, including the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), which continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19," Maxwell Cooper said.
If you've already committed to attending a destination wedding in the coming weeks and just can't stand to miss it, destination wedding planner Meggie Francisco suggests closely monitoring local quarantines and travel restrictions, including any connecting flights.
"They should also be aware that these developments can change at any time, including when they are already en route to their destination. Couples planning international destination weddings need to think carefully about the financial, physical and emotional risks this could present," Francisco said.
If you do decide you'd rather stay home, the good news is that many airlines are waiving cancellation and change fees at the moment, so you have a better chance of recouping any costs.
Are wedding dress deliveries delayed due to coronavirus?
Hand sanitizer and toilet paper have been flying off the shelves in recent weeks, and wedding dress deliveries are also being affected by the coronavirus. Many brides who have already ordered their gowns are concerned that they might not arrive in time because of a slowdown in production due to the pandemic.
"Most wedding dresses are sold at boutiques, which carry many designers. This means there is a middleman (the wedding dress brand) between the store and the factory. We are seeing cases where brands are behind on production, which is causing uncertainty and delay for brides," Leslie Voorhees Means, co-founder and CEO of custom wedding dress brand Anomalie, said.
According to Voorhees Means, the vast majority of wedding gowns in the U.S. are also produced in China, which has been the epicenter of the coronavirus, so many brides are worried that their dress might not arrive in time.
"We are speaking and collaborating with 1,500 new brides everyday across the country and are hearing significant anxiety about the impact of coronavirus on their wedding planning," Voorhees Means said, adding that Anomalie is now guaranteeing that all their custom gowns will be delivered at least a month before the wedding.
What about other major life events?
Much like weddings, other major life events are being impacted by the coronavirus. Marnee Muskal, NBC Digital's senior director of audience development, decided to postpone her daughter's bat mitzvah, originally scheduled for April 25.
"One set of my daughter’s grandparents live in California and we worried about them being able to make it. Also, we were starting to get calls from guests that they were concerned," she told TODAY Style.
While Muskal hadn't purchased event insurance in advance, she had understanding vendors who made the decision easy.
"We tried to get insurance last week but were not able to do it. The vendors were very flexible. They moved the date without any fees or penalties," she said.
She has now rescheduled a date in late October and is looking forward to celebrating her daughter's milestone with friends and family once the threat of coronavirus is (hopefully) behind us.