30-40 person gathering in September
May 28, 2020 4:45 AM   Subscribe

Big wedding has been postponed, and we're considering having a small reception with the wedding party in lieu of having our original 150 person wedding "when things reopen". Trying to gauge the viability of this...

Our 150 person wedding scheduled for Memorial Day was postponed due to the obvious. We will be having a small, family wedding of our 10 person immediate family in our backyard at the end of August. My main question is the possibility of having a reception with just our wedding party the following weekend (Labor Day) in our backyard. Our wedding party + spouses/sig others is around 40 people, so I'm guessing 30-35 people would be able to make it (we live in a state that has started reopening and outdoor activities with up to 50 people are allowed). 75% are local, but a few would be traveling from out of town (some via car, some via plane). Everyone from out of town is coming from places with stricter social distancing restrictions than we live with and practices strict social distancing themselves. No one in this group is immunocompromised, but several are couples with young children, and so we are considering having a 60-90 minute window at the beginning for them to drop by with only a couple other people, so they would feel safer about the situation. Our house would obviously be open, but we also have an outdoor entrance to the backyard, so people could bypass the inside of the house (we would likely rent a port-a-potty). I've also been thinking about ways to cut down on the possibility of transfer; for instance, we wouldn't have dancing/dance floor. We would hire a bartender so people aren't touching wine bottles or a cooler with beer. Any food would be able to be eaten from toothpicks and there would be no communal utensils. Have hand sanitizer and wipes all around. Paper towels in the bathroom for hand washing instead of towels, etc.

I know that we have no idea what the summer will hold or even what the next month looks like, but I'm wondering if this idea sounds too risky to pull off.
posted by orangesky4 to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I guess the most obvious hole I see in your plan is your inability to protect those people flying in from potential exposure on the way to your reception -- no matter how many measures you take to keep them safe at your house. Perhaps airlines and airports will implement some innovative measures to limit or prevent passengers' exposure to between now and September, though .
posted by shaademaan at 4:57 AM on May 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

If I were invited to this gathering I would not attend. It sounds like you would do a bunch of safety theater things that wouldn't mean much, especially not with the chaos of small children. Are you going to mark out circles in the lawn that are six feet apart and wave to folks who want to congratulate you? Will the bartender have a line with six feet of clearance between each person wanting a drink? Will the portapotty be fully ventilated after each use and wiped down? The types of things you would need to ensure for me to attend this party would cause it to be no fun at all and not worth the risk and stress of travel.

Maybe in a while there will be a safer party protocol kind of thing. Maybe better research will come out on how it is transmitted and what's truly risky or not. But as it is right now, nope, no way. I would much prefer that someone in your situation put the funds you might spend on this party towards your continued mental health in a more socially distanced manner. I would bristle at the implication of an obligation at an invitation and then feel guilty about my prickliness and it would be a whole thing.
posted by Mizu at 5:06 AM on May 28, 2020 [48 favorites]

I'm Australian. Here is my take based on what the chief medical officers have been advising:

The issue is that weddings are places where people get comfortable and mingle. The big thing they are talking about here is physical distancing: staying 1.5m (or two arm lengths) away from other people. Do you have enough space for this?

Outdoors is lower risk than inside. But alcohol perhaps increases the risk of people forgetting to be careful.

But yeah, even as we are allowed here to visit our friends and family, they are recommending physical distancing continue.

I really don't know what to recommend. There are definitely things you can do to reduce the risks. But I just think back to a wedding here at the start of the pandemic: one asymptomatic person and pretty much all the people at the wedding got it. Weddings have seen the harshest restrictions here initially- the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses, because it's hard to physically distance at a party like that.
posted by freethefeet at 5:07 AM on May 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

The logistics would make me nervous. There seems a good chance that there will be a second wave which will result in restrictions being heightened again. Anyone who makes travel plans will be subject to that uncertainty.

If everyone was local you might be able to pull it off, but you could always cancel if things got bad. Once you’ve started committing to plane tickets and hotel rooms things get messy.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:34 AM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Marry now and promise the reception as soon as the virus coast is clear. You'll eventually have a great party with two things to celebrate: your marriage and the end of the pandemic.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:49 AM on May 28, 2020 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Planning a wedding reception in 2020 reminds me a little of the days when life was governed by astrologers: they would gaze into the heavens and determine when the stars had aligned in a particular manner - and that it was therefore time to hold a party. The celebrations would come, for sure, but not on any clear schedule.

The whole point of a wedding reception is to knit together a sizeable community of beloved family and friends. To do so by dancing, chatting, eating together and having a drink. A good wedding reception is everything that "social distancing" is not - and a "super-spreader event" for Covid-19 is everything that is much of what a great wedding comprises.

You have already made the decision to separate out the contractual paperwork of your wedding with the follow on party. That seems sensible to me. Normally the reception would follow on as soon as possible - but that imposes a lot of the risks that others have outlined. So you could either postpone the reception indefinitely (until the various pandemic related stars have aligned) - or you could deliberately set out to have the reception at some point in the future when the outbreak is likely to have subsided, when there is probably a vaccine available, when your guests won't have to contemplate infecting their vulnerable relatives or having to spend time in quarantine just to be there on the day.

That might be on your first anniversary - or your second even. Not the normal way of doing things, to be sure, but these are not normal times and people will understand, I think.
posted by rongorongo at 5:57 AM on May 28, 2020 [38 favorites]

The fact that a lot of places are now "opening up" means that we're now doing a lot of natural experiments. In a month, we will have much more information on what can actually be done safely. Maybe we will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe we won't. I would defer the decision for a month if at all possible.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:06 AM on May 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Seriously, although touch transmission is a thing, it is not at all the main means of infection. All the precautions you are thinking about assume that transmission by touch is the main danger here. It is not.

Most of the main outbreaks have been traced to social gatherings. Apart from for health workers and public transport workers, who undergo multiple contacts with inadequate protection, transmission seems to occur most effectively through friendly, prolonged, face-to-face social contact, conversation, breathing in each others space. AFAIK most of the big outbreaks have been traced to weddings, funerals and church. And then infections that occurred over time in closed communities in confined spaces such as cruises and care homes. And in hospitals, as we're hearing now.

We have this knowledge, we really need to keep applying it even when we're getting a different message from self - interested sources. You have people flying in, exposed to re-circulating air, which also seems to be a transmission factor. Your plans are all targeted at the WRONG RISK, touch transmission, at the expense of the risk of droplet transmission.

Its very hard but if you're having difficulty accepting this is a bad idea think of the repercussions in the family if people do get infected. Think how the new couple will feel if any deaths in the family are traced back to their wedding.

And also think of how many states are reopening right now and what that's going to mean for the spread and continuation of the epidemic
posted by glasseyes at 6:08 AM on May 28, 2020 [21 favorites]

Best answer: If it helps you make up your mind - my cousin's wedding was originally going to be in April, but then in early April she postponed it until Labor Day. However, I've just heard that she's further chosen to postpone it again until next May, out of an abundance of caution. It sucks, but it's the only way she felt comfortable ensuring everyone would be safe.

I like rongorongo's idea of having the actual wedding be a small thing this year, and then have your first anniversary party be a total blowout.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 AM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

we would likely rent a port-a-potty
This alone will undo any effort into any other hygiene measures. Everything you list is pointless once people start using the same bathroom, especially one that is not exactly made with hygiene in mind.
posted by like_neon at 6:17 AM on May 28, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I eloped. It was just me, my husband to be, the judge, and two strangers as paid witnesses. We had a wonderful and huge anniversary party 10 years later. In your situation, I would not wait 10 years. But I would wait at least a year for two reasons: 1. We still know too little about transmission and 2. It is not much fun to have a celebration party without mingling, dancing, hugs, etc.

My dad's ashes have been sitting in a box at a funeral home for nearly 3 months now. Originally, I was going to pick them up in October and take them to a different state so my siblings and I could have a burial service for our dad. But now that will probably happen next year. And that's okay, because I am going to be sad and I am going to cry and I am going to want to comfort and be comforted by my family and that cannot happen now.

Your desire to plan a reception soon is understandable. Marriages and burials are very different things, but those who attend either tend to have the desire to get close to one another to share their joy or grief. If I were you, I would postpone the reception, simply because it will be more enjoyable for everyone, you especially, to hold it under circumstances that are less fraught. Best wishes for your upcoming wedding!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:27 AM on May 28, 2020 [10 favorites]

alcohol perhaps increases the risk of people forgetting to be careful

This would be my biggest concern - all of the "socially-distanced" parties I've heard about start out with appropriate social distancing which then completely disintegrates after people have a few drinks.

I think the advice above to see what else we know in a month is good, but if things haven't changed by September, personally I wouldn't want to be a party host and the party social-distancing police after everyone has had a couple of beers.
posted by terretu at 6:29 AM on May 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I cannot imagine that I would attend an event that size in August, regardless of the precautions taken or how much I loved the people getting married. I can sort of, if I squint and try to read the tea leaves, imagine just *possibly* being comfortable with a ~10 person event. In your shoes I'd tentatively plan the small family event in August and postpone any big gathering until well into 2021.

If I were really determined to move ahead I would be thinking a lot about a) how to address the shared bathroom issue - a port-a-potty seems not even remotely hygienic, I'd maybe almost prefer letting people use the shared bathroom with a required wait time between uses or something, but I'd be trying to do a lot of research on that and b) how to keep happy drunk people six feet apart. Shared utensils, you can deal with. Forty happy drunk people who haven't seen each other in ages - are you comfortable policing hugs? Are you going to ask some of your guests to give up their own good time to act as the Hug Police?

You know best the people involved and their personalities and health situations, and the safety regulations where you are, and will need to make the right decision for you

But I think you should expect some of your guest list to be uncomfortable and to not attend, and you should be prepared to handle that graciously. And I think you should consider whether, ten years from now, you will have happier memories if they're of a 2020 event that you had to police extensively, or a 2021 event that you had to wait for, but could be more relaxed about and see more of the people you love at. I know what the right answer would be for me, but not for you.
posted by Stacey at 6:38 AM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

We were supposed to have a wedding party/reception this Saturday. We’ve decided to postpone indefinitely (at least a year). I would be too anxious about making sure everyone was safe/observing distancing protocols to enjoy myself if we held it any earlier.
posted by coppermoss at 6:38 AM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I appreciate all the responses and ideas here. I'm clearly just having a really hard time letting go of the idea of a wedding I was looking forward to. Thank you for the feedback. We'll have to push a reception indefinitely, and I will work to be okay with that.
posted by orangesky4 at 7:01 AM on May 28, 2020 [22 favorites]

Best answer: We were supposed to get married on August 22 and postponed to June 2021 for all the reasons people have mentioned. There are tons of people in this boat with you. It'll be a hell of a party once you're able to have it. :)
posted by marfa, texas at 7:04 AM on May 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

(There are some advantages to holding a deferred party: wedding receptions come with all manner of conventions you are supposed to comply with - as hosts or as guests. Theses conventions make them expensive to hold (and attend). They also make such gatherings a little predictable. With a deferred party, you can make up whatever you would like to happen; it is likely to be a memorable event for everybody). .
posted by rongorongo at 8:20 AM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

One factor that may help you to be okay with it is that the expert consensus does seem to be that it's too soon to be reopening things for business. In a population that isn't taking measures to stop the spread of disease, early studies indicate that one person infected with covid-19 will infect from 2.4 to 3.1 other people, on average. This is called the "basic reproduction number," styled as R0, pronounced "R-naught." R0 is an observed value, meaning that it's measured based on actual community spread and not some intrinsic characteristic of the transmissibility of a virus. R0 doesn't go down or stay down on its own. In the absence of herd immunity people have to change their behavior. In some places that have already reopened (perhaps for reasons more political than scientific) the infection rate is rising.

The risk of close contact (like a wedding reception) is that it could become not just a way for the virus to spread from one infected person to three others, but that it could become a super-spreading event. When you're counting on changed behavior but you're also putting people in a situation where they would naturally make close physical contact (handshakes, hugs, perhaps even kisses) and also providing them with alcohol (which would loosen already shaky inhibitions) you're really increasing the risk of contagion amongst your friends and family. And there's evidence that the R0 value of 2.4-3 is misleading: "When we say over-dispersed, what we mean is there are super-spreading events, so the average might be two, let's say, but most people are infecting one or no people and then a very few people are infecting 8 to 10 or even more people," he said.

Some experts interviewed by the NYT believe that the herd immunity required to allow a return to normal activity is at least 60% (and perhaps up to 80%) of the population. We're nowhere near that. It's still prudent to wait.
posted by fedward at 8:25 AM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Try to think of it as saving up for a bigger, fancier blowout on your first anniversary or whenever it's possible again. People will certainly understand. It will be so much more relaxed and fun if people aren't having to keep a list of precautions in their head at all times. (I'm in the "we need to be reasonable about harm reduction" wing of Mefi response, but I wouldn't go to this party on its current date.)
posted by praemunire at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's ever going to be possible, but I think we'd rather wait and have a big party where we don't have to think about virus constantly to make sure we stay vigilant and NOT EVEN CLOSE TO ANYONE.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:31 AM on May 28, 2020

The time seems long now but when I look back at the Spanish Flu and think how many millions of lives could have been saved if people held out longer. Few things seem so long in retrospect as in during. I think waiting is a decision you could be proud 10/20/50 years down the road. You can be with your spouse now, and that’s the most important thing.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:05 AM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Your discouragement and sadness are real---it is a tough moment to let go off. As a wedding officiant I have been talking a lot of couples through this. Many who have decided to plan a future gathering when it's truly safe are thinking of making it a vow renewal ceremony so that it has some of the gravitas and presence of a wedding ceremony, even though you'd technically already be married. Also, in my experience, couples who marry in love but under duress look back on their weddings as wonderful examples of their relationship's resilience. Best of luck!
posted by cocoagirl at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have made up your mind, but just to reinforce that decision, I wanted to share a cautionary tale. On what turned out to be the very last weekend that such things were possible, I attended a family wedding in NYC. The family had agonized about cancelling, but for a lot of reasons (all of which seemed good at the time), decided to go forward with it. We all started off with good intentions around gloves and hand sanitizer and not hugging and such, but it all went out the window eventually, due to general festiveness and yes, booze.

Two weeks later, the bride and groom both had C-19, as did the bride's brother. All three have recovered fully, but everyone was extremely anxious about it while they were sick. Two wedding guests, both older, also got sick, and one passed away. My guess is that at least some asymptomatic transmission occurred that we will never know the full effects of, since testing has been so hard to come by.

The bride's mother has struggled with terrible guilt and regret, after the fact, although at the time, the decision wasn't a straightforward one. I would say that it is a much more clear-cut choice, now. Don't let your joyful memories be tainted in that way, even if it means postponing until it's safe.
posted by merriment at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2020 [12 favorites]

The things you need to do at a 40 person wedding are the things you cannot do until the epidemic is over. I'm so sorry this has happened to you and everyone else and I hope your reception is everything you ever wanted when you finally get to have it.
posted by plonkee at 2:47 PM on May 28, 2020

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