Asking wedding guests to leave their children at home used to be among the thornier requests a couple could make.
Now, COVID-19 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-19 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, Massachusetts.
“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% 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% 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,” 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 Gallagher telling her he was deeply offended that he had been excluded from the smaller ceremony.
The couple invited him to their second wedding celebration, on Sept. 11, but he declined, saying he already had plans, said Barry, 38.
“He’s written us off,” he said.
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.
Gallagher, 37, is a doctor with many friends in the medical field, so she expected that most of her guests would be vaccinated. Barry said he assigned his sister the task of delicately asking their cousins about their vaccination status.
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,” Gallagher said. But she said she knew better than to get offended.
“It is heartbreaking,” Gallagher said. “But I completely understand.”
Who should pay for a COVID-19 test?
The need to make guests feel safe has led couples to get creative, said Kay, 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, Kay said.
The urge to create a safer environment at weddings has also led to more demand for services from private COVID-19 testing companies, which often charge steep fees.
Tests can cost $170 per person, 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, Bohlin said she was torn.
“If I were a guest at a wedding, I would do it and I would pay for it,” she 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, Massachusetts, 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-19 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?” said Robinson, 57. “We thought that wasn’t fair.”
‘Celebration is a beautiful word. Vaccination, not so much.’
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,’ ” Robinson recalled. The friend did not want to be vaccinated, but she agreed to take a COVID-19 test, and at the ceremony, she wore a mask and kept her distance from other guests.
Robinson said she was grateful for her friend’s general acceptance of the wedding protocol, even though she has still failed to persuade her to be vaccinated. “We love her and care about her,” 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,” 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,” Falvey said. “Vaccination, not so much.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.