We're here to help during this incredibly emotional time.

By Blythe Copeland
March 16, 2020

As the world works to slow the spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, by shuttering retail shops, closing schools, and discouraging large, in-person events, wedding planning couples and professionals face their own set of challenges. Whether you're days or weeks away from saying "I do" locally, finalizing a destination wedding, or looking ahead to a future event, you should prepare for—not panic over—changes in your plans. "Don't panic, but be proactive," says wedding planner Allison Jackson of Pineapple Productions. "While the coronavirus is something new and unprecedented, couples should remember that what is not new to wedding planners is the practice of developing sound contingency plans."

Related: What Happens If You Have to Reschedule or Cancel Your Wedding?

Consider postponing the event.

As of today, March 16, 2020, the CDC recommends that gatherings of 50 people taking place over the next eight weeks be postponed. Depending on where you live, local government may have already taken this one step further and banned any gatherings of this size. If you're now faced with the incredibly difficult task of deciding what to do, consult first with your vendors. "Check with your local government and the CDC first, as they have recently sent new guidelines around gatherings, and things are changing daily," says Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events. "As of today all events that consist of 50 people or more cannot happen in the next eight weeks. If your wedding falls into this category of events, then take a deep breathe and begin the postponement process." That last part is the most important: "I do not encourage you to cancel your wedding. Postpone it instead," he adds.

Prepare for a smaller guest count.

Even if your wedding will take place more than eight weeks from today, you still may see a smaller number of guests in attendance, especially as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread. "Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of accurate information on the positive cases and spread of the virus, which puts people in uncomfortable positions and encourages them not to travel or be in gatherings," says Meyer. Out-of-town guests may choose not to fly, or could have their flights canceled as airlines work to trim expenses and meet lowered demand, and local guests may decide to continue to skip events with such a large group of strangers. "The biggest challenge for couples planning weddings in the next few [months] is coming to grips with the need for social distancing," says Jackson. "Public health officials are making it very clear that in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we need to avoid large public gatherings and limit our movements."

If you do not live in a state with restrictions on guest count, and you plan to move forward with your ceremony no matter how many guests change their RSVP from "accepts with pleasure" to "declines with regret," your planner can help reorganize the day. "When a guest count drops for any reason," says Jackson, "I work to adjust things like floor plans, décor, and timelines to make sense for the new scenario." She's even working on ways to help long-distance guests—like your elderly grandparents and overseas BFF—join the celebration virtually. "Trust your wedding planner and key vendors to come up with a thoughtful, beautiful, and solid Plan B—or maybe it's actually a Plan C," says Jackson. "Even if you don't have to implement this plan, having it will help you feel less uncertain and less stressed."

Check in with your vendors.

As you're modifying your plans to accommodate your guests' travel, you should call your vendors, too. In most cases, says Meyer, a vendor who chooses not to work your wedding for personal reasons will send another member of their team, or suggest another industry professional. "We have to respect everyone's decision to protect their own health first," says Meyer. "If the entire company cannot do the job due to the coronavirus then you should ask them for recommendations."

If your vendors are still willing to attend, ask about the steps they've taken to protect themselves and your guests. "One way to stay solution-oriented is to work with your vendors to develop and implement health strategies to keep everyone attending or working a wedding as safe as possible," says Jackson. "The caterers, rental companies, and floral designers I work with have been terrific about outlining ways they have stepped up sanitization procedures, including increased hand-washing, disinfection of vehicles and equipment, and requiring any sick employees to stay home from work."

Follow local guidelines.

While a lower guest count or alternative vendor doesn't require cancelling or postponing a wedding, couples who've planned events in virus hotspots or towns with restrictions around the number of people at any gathering might face changes that are out of their control. "If the local town laws are not allowing social gatherings, if many guests cannot travel in, or if vendors are not able to do their jobs or provide their services, then I think exploring the idea of postponing makes sense," says Meyer. "If the wedding is in a location that is in quarantine then it may be canceled; if it is near a location that is being closely monitored, it may be canceled." International destination weddings are especially jeopardized as governments in Australia and Europe deal with the spread of the virus and the U.S. restricts incoming flights. "For couples getting married abroad in countries on the no-travel list, unfortunately this means postponing or relocating your wedding," says Jackson.

Your vendor contracts will detail the options you have for refunds and rescheduling, and while the planners we've spoken to expect most vendors to accommodate changes if possible, couples should be aware that postponing or canceling may come with a cost. "If your wedding is in the next 30 days, it is advised to call your vendors and talk about postponing or canceling, based on what is best for you and your fiancé," says Meyer. "Vendors are doing their best to take care of their clients and move dates but their own businesses will take hits as well, so there may be date change fees to help keep their companies afloat in these challenging and uncertain times."

If you chose not to hire a wedding planner at the beginning of the process, it's not too late: Enlisting the help of a professional to reschedule your big day, understand your vendor contracts, or come up with an alternative ceremony plan is often still an option. "An experienced professional can help you pivot and establish a new plan as quickly as possible," says Jackson. Meyer agrees: "If a couple is feeling overwhelmed with their planning, they should consider reaching out to a professional planner for assistance. Since we have never experienced anything like this before, speaking to a professional may be helpful, and some may offer hourly consultations to help. Also some may be very busy and focused on their current client needs, so be patient with your outreach."

Take it one day at a time.

If you've already started making plans for a fall or winter wedding, don't rush to make any changes. "I think couples should continue to plan their weddings," says Meyer. "They can add a caveat about coronavirus for any new vendors they book, but they should proceed as normal for now. If couples feel nervous, then they should wait on booking vendors—but know that others who are postponing their weddings will be looking for vendors as well, so I suggest booking and moving forward." Jackson encourages her future clients to stick to their timelines, too: "Track developments in the news, but also be sure to turn to your wedding planner before making any major decisions," she says. "For couples planning weddings in the summer and fall, perhaps the pandemic's curve will have flattened and the next biggest challenge to address will be restricted guest travel. Gathering information about your options is the way to avoid feeling powerless about this pandemic."

This information is accurate as of March 16, 2020. The Martha Stewart Weddings team will make every effort to update this story with accurate information as soon as it becomes available, but we encourage our readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department, as well as consulting with their wedding vendors.

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