Sydney Collier and Michael Nusbaum were right on time back in March, when they sent out save-the-date cards for their Aug. 8 wedding to roughly 220 guests.
The coronavirus was barely a blip on their busy radars — until the number of cases in West Virginia began to grow. And suddenly, it was the only thing that mattered.
“COVID was becoming more ‘there’ in our state. People were at risk. We wanted to move forward. We were going to do temperature checks and hand sanitizer and try to socially distance as much as possible. That was our whole plan,” Collier said.
Then in June, “I heard that there was a bigger wedding in Huntington ... and that COVID had spread pretty quickly from that. That made it more nerve wracking for us because we didn’t want to put any of our guests or ourselves in danger.”
A few short weeks later, her fiance broke his ankle and that was the final straw. They started contacting all of those would-be guests to tell them things had changed.
“We had actually gotten back several of our RSVP cards by the time we decided to pull the trigger and cancel,” Collier said.
Welcome to Wedding Planning 2020: The COVID-19 Version, in which a deadly global pandemic forces the shutdown of countless fairytale plans and attempts to reign in the emotions of one of the most life significant events for untold numbers of starry-eyed couples.
The most alarming case of wedding-related COVID-19 comes from an Aug. 7 event attended by 65 people in Millinocket, Maine. As of last Tuesday, it was linked to more than 175 confirmed cases and seven deaths — none of them people who were present for the nuptials.
After the Huntington wedding, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department sent out a press release.
“The rapid increase in new cases is alarming and is cause for all Cabell Countians to review their plans for travel, family get-togethers, and gatherings like graduations and weddings, since all of these can put you at risk to catch this disease,” director Dr. Michael Kilkenny said.
“For the most part, these cases have occurred when face covering was not used, and distancing was not observed. If we are to continue to participate in these activities, we must use every available precaution,” he added.
The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department was even more direct last week, confirming 16 COVID-19 cases linked to a recent wedding at Little Creek Park Golf Course.
“Weddings are a joyful time, but we can’t forget that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said health officer and executive director Dr. Sherri Young.
“If you go to a wedding or any other event where you’re with other people, please wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from others and wash your hands frequently. Protecting ourselves and others is our number one priority and we have to do all that we can to stop the spread of this virus.”
But very few people dream of a wedding with no hugs or high fives. With a handful of masked guests carefully standing 6 feet apart.
And weddings, it turns out, are not included in an executive order from Gov. Jim Justice that limits social gatherings to 25 people — which means bridal couples get tremendous latitude in deciding exactly how to tie the knot these days. The results are as unique and varied as the couples themselves.
“We just had to draw a hard line,” Jordan Martin said.
She and Jeremy Blatt also sent out save-the-dates in March, inviting 230 people to their Aug. 1 wedding. As they began to realize the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis, “we decided to only have our immediate family and wedding party,” she said.
Both in their 30s, they didn’t want to wait any longer, so they chopped their dream list to a fraction of its original size, ended up with 40 guests and hoped they didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings along the way.
“Our ceremony was at Sacred Heart Catholic Church ... and they required everyone to wear a mask,” she said.
Of course, it wouldn’t just be any mask.
Her own was hand-crafted by Mireya Sanchez, owner of The Dressmaker’s Closet.
“It was just a suggestion that she could make it with some of the lace from my dress. She ended up surprising me with it and I thought it was very beautiful,” Martin said.
The previous owner took care of the groom and members of the wedding party, making personal masks from the bridesmaids’ dresses and the groomsmen’s shirts.
The reception was held at Berry Hills Country Club. It was lovely, she said, but after all the frenzied planning, it was disappointing in a way.
“At the end of the day, we had our immediate family and our very, very closest friends there and it was a day — that regardless of how many people we had there — it was supposed to be about Jeremy and I and it was, and we enjoyed our day.”
Taylor and Tyler Given had a civil ceremony on June 6, their original wedding date, and a full wedding and reception at Edgewood Country Club on Aug. 8.
Friends tried to make light of the COVID-19 chaos, she said, but “nothing about the corona ruining my wedding was funny to me. It was so, so stressful, the constant unknown.”
They cut their August guest list to 150 people to accommodate the capacity restrictions and had hand sanitizer available, but otherwise chose to let the show go on.
“I didn’t want anybody to wear masks if they didn’t want to,” Taylor Given said.
“I just felt like everybody wanted to let loose and have a good time. Because of this coronavirus, everybody’s been so stressed out — you’re not allowed to go anywhere or do anything or have parties with people — so I just felt like everybody was happy to let loose.”
Aware of outbreaks linked to other weddings, “I did feel concern and I just kept praying and praying that nobody would get it. At the same time ... it was kind of like, ‘Come at your own risk,’” she said.
Their honeymoon will be next year on June 6 — their actual wedding date.
“If I have learned one thing from COVID, I have learned flexibility,” Sydney [Collier] Nusbaum said.
She and husband Michael had a small ceremony and dinner at Berry Hills Country Club on Aug. 23.
“We winged it, really. We showed up. My mom was like, you know, ‘As soon as I sit down, you and your dad start walking.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, here we go.’”
Chairs were carefully spaced, masks on and sanitizer nearby, with labels that read, “Spread love, not germs.”
“I was overjoyed to be married. I think Michael was, too, but after it was all said and done, I was a little sad because we didn’t have a first dance. I have uncles and aunts and cousins I missed. Michael as well, several friends that we just wanted to be with us, you know, to embrace it and celebrate,” she said.
They plan to have a second wedding next year, with all of their family members, all of their friends, wearing the “real” dress she chose, not the one she found on Amazon for $99.
“We’ve been telling ourselves and all our loved ones that this was a nice trial run, a practice run. We’re actually going to do another ceremony and an actual big reception next year on May 15.”
At least, that’s the plan.