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How to have a socially distanced wedding


So you had big plans for a Summer 2020 wedding? That’s probably not going to happen now, thanks to COVID. Weddings (along with everything else) have changed drastically with a global pandemic threatening the world’s health.

Receptions aren’t allowed at the moment. Guest counts are drastically limited. Masks and social distancing are required. But it IS possible to get married this summer in Washington State, and it is possible to have a safe, healthy (and even fun) socially distanced wedding.

The rules

The state’s guidelines for weddings in the COVID era are changing frequently, but these are the rules as of Sept. 27, 2020 (I’ll update as things change):

  • Ceremonies are permitted.
  • Receptions are NOT permitted (exactly what constitutes a reception has not been clarified).
  • Wedding ceremonies may have 30 people or 20% occupancy, whichever is fewer.
  • The current Washington State mask and social distancing mandates must be observed (masks are required indoors, and outdoors if you can’t maintain 6 feet of distance. Guests should be 6 feet apart at all times).
  • These rules apply to weddings on both public and private property, including backyard weddings.

No receptions???

That’s the rule right now because our state’s COVID numbers have gone up. If a big party with dancing, dining and mingling is high on your list of priorities, maybe a socially distanced wedding isn’t right for you. Consider postponing until next summer, when hopefully we’ll be back to normal.

The setup

So with these rules in mind, how do you set up your socially distanced wedding ceremony?

First, set up all your ceremony chairs for guests 6 feet apart. If you don’t want people to be isolated, set them up in pairs or household groups so people from the same household can sit together. Each set of chairs must be 6 feet from the next set, on both sides and to the front and back.

If you’re walking down the aisle, set up at least a 12′ wide aisle so you’ll be 6 feet from guests seated on either side.

Give yourselves enough space at the altar for the officiant and any attendants standing up with you to be 6 feet away from you and each other. And make sure there’s enough space up there for your photographer to move around between you and your guests, on the sides of the ceremony space and even behind the altar if possible. We thank you for thinking of us.

The photos

How do you manage family and group photos while remaining socially distanced?

It’s not easy, but it’s possible. The best thing to do is break up your family photos into smaller, household-based groups instead of bringing together people from more than a few households for large group photos. If large group photos with full extended family are important for you, I recommend wearing masks for those. Big groups of people, standing close together without masks, maximize the risk of spread.

With smaller groups, you can spread people out to avoid close contact. Socially distanced photos can be fun and even dramatic – think something like this, with your friends spread out even more.

When it’s time for couples’ portraits for you and your love, your masks can come off. Your photographer will wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from you at all times. This means I won’t be able to do the things I usually do like straighten clothes, smooth stray hairs and use my hands to guide couples into the right pose. We’ll have to work together to make it happen. But rest assured, those photos can still be magical.

What do we do the rest of the time?

Receptions may not be allowed, but that doesn’t mean socially distanced weddings can’t be fun! Here are a few ideas for activities to keep your guests entertained after you get hitched:

  • Hire a local caterer to prepare elegant boxed meals (Rochelle at Baker’s Dozen makes gorgeous ones) and give them to your guests as favors to eat at home.
  • Buy a beautifully decorated mini-cake for the two of you to cut and eat, and give your guests individually-wrapped cupcakes to take home.
  • Hook up a speaker to your phone and have your first dance as a married couple (6 feet away from your guests, of course).
  • Reserve space at a restaurant with enough outdoor seating for everyone to sit at a table with their household and treat your guests to a meal.
  • Set out board or (socially distanced) lawn games for guests to play with their households.
  • Have a trivia contest! Have a friend or family member act as MC and ask trivia questions about the couple, the family or anything you want.
  • Wrap up early, send everyone home and spend your first quiet evening together as a married couple.

OK, but I still have questions

Maybe I can answer them:

Do we have to wear masks during the ceremony? Under the current mask mandate, if you can stay 6 feet away from everyone around you a mask is not required.

What if my guests don’t want to wear masks? Under the state mask mandate, masks are required if you can’t stay socially distanced, even outside. Any professional vendors working at your wedding are required to enforce this law. In addition, the state guidelines say that your wedding coordinator is responsible for enforcing the mask laws. If you don’t have a wedding coordinator, you (the couple) are responsible.

What if we decide not to follow the rules? Your wedding vendors can be fined for working a wedding that doesn’t follow guidelines. If a vendor shows up at a wedding and sees illegal activity, they may be contractually allowed to leave immediately (without a refund) so they aren’t held liable. Read your contracts, ask your vendors what they are comfortable with and don’t ask us to do anything illegal, please.

This sounds like a boring wedding. It doesn’t have to be! You can still be surrounded by the people you love and share your most important day with them. Big, rowdy, exciting weddings might not be in the cards right now. If that’s what you want, postponing might be your best option.

Can we at least go somewhere really cool for the ceremony and photos? Yes! This is an opportunity to have your socially distanced wedding at an epic location – on top of a mountain, on a beach by the ocean, maybe on a tiny island – surrounded by only the people most dear to you. As long as you have a legal officiant and two witnesses (and of course an amazing photographer), what else do you need?

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