SALT LAKE CITY — Engaged couples preparing for what is supposed to be the biggest, best and happiest day of their lives are being forced to reckon with recommendations from the CDC that events with 50 or more people be postponed or canceled and that older adults avoid nonessential travel.

Brigham Young University students Dan Budge and Tayla Ingles had planned to get married on March 27. But over the past several days, they’ve grappled with wave after wave of news updates about COVID-19 that have compounded concerns about their guests and family members, some of whom live overseas or are elderly.

Originally, the couple had invited 550 people to their March 27 reception at Cactus & Tropicals in Draper. On Thursday after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recommended limiting gatherings in the state to groups of 100 people or less, Budge, 21 and Ingles, 18, made the difficult decision to postpone the party indefinitely.

As for the wedding, they didn’t want to risk letting any other unforeseen complications get in the way of their sealing at the Draper temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So with some frantic, last minute calls, they rescheduled the ceremony for Saturday. A small group of under 30 people attended, cheering for the couple as they exited the temple.

“It’s so crazy, just so insane,” said Ingles.

“We don’t want to add to the panic, but we also want to be on the side of caution and making sure everyone is safe and healthy,” Ingles said. “As well as still being able to get married because that’s what matters to us in the end.”

Dan and Tayla Budge, exit the Draper Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after being married, to cheering family and friends on Saturday, March 14, 2020. They moved up their wedding by two weeks because of the threat of COVID-19. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

As of Friday, the church had closed 13 temples, including those in Taipei, Seoul and Manhattan. While ordinances like marriages will continue at Utah temples for now, the church announced that it will keep responding to government restrictions that may preclude temple activity.

Utah wedding venues like Memorial House in Salt Lake City and Arbor Manor in West Valley City are increasing the frequency of sanitization and allowing clients to reschedule their events if needed.

“We are just trying to work with everybody to make sure people are happy because this is so hard,” said Dawn Borchardt, manager at Memorial House. “It’s hard for us and it’s hard for people who have been waiting their whole lives to get married, and then suddenly this happens.”  

But not every venue or vendor can afford to be so flexible. Susan Cordogan, founder of the Chicago-based event planning company Big City Bride, said she has seen vendors struggle to make ends meet because of cancellations, as well as couples who have lost significant amounts of money because they chose to postpone their weddings and were unable to get refunds.

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According to The Knot, the average wedding in the U.S. costs $33,000 and the wedding industry, with connections to travel, hospitality an entertainment, is worth $78 billion. The extra-busy 2020 wedding season is just starting to ramp up, but coronavirus is already wreaking havoc, Cordogan said.

“It’s not fun when a couple has to lose money or a vendor has to forfeit pay,” said Cordogan. “But in the face of this national crisis, it’s absolutely necessary to take a selfless approach. For the greater good of society, we need to work together, focus on social distancing and let this crisis pass.”

Uncertainty

With national recommendations and news updates changing by the hour, couples whose weddings are planned for later this month, April or even May are facing uncertainty about what changes they should make to their plans.

McKay Daines, 29, a product manager who lives in Provo, has a wedding scheduled for May 1.

“I’m hoping things will be better by then, but I’m thinking they will be worse,” said Daines. “I am keeping a close eye on what things are happening.”

McKay Daines, left, poses with his fiancee, Desiree Winters. | McKay Daines

In the meantime, Daines and his fiancee are stuck in a sort of limbo where even simple decisions about things like sending out invitations have become incredibly complicated, he said.

The Governor of Washington has announced a ban on most gatherings of 50 or more. The Governor of Massachusetts has lowered the threshold to 25 in addition to placing restrictions on bars and restaurants along with states like New York, Illinois and Ohio. On Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a limit on gatherings of more than 100 and said the state would reassess as circumstances change.

“It’s moving in a way that it’s going to be illegal to carry on and gather,” said Cardogan. “Right now you’ve got to make a difficult decision because the ball is in your court. It’s still legal to hold your wedding, but are you being socially irresponsible by doing so?”

“It’s a gray area where we’ve never really seen anything like this before,” added Cardogan, who has been in the business for decades and has handled weddings affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, natural disasters, riots and more.

Andrew Gibbons, 26, and Samara Brown, 24, are currently considering everything from restricting their April 10 wedding to family only to asking older guests to stay home.

Samara Brown, left, and Andrew Gibbons are engaged to be married on April 10. | Angela Baker

“We of course would want our grandparents to be there, but we would feel so much worse if they got coronavirus at our wedding,” Brown said.

There is also a high likelihood that Gibbons and Brown, both BYU students, will have to cancel their honeymoon trip to Disneyland, which is currently closed. The trip is already paid for and Gibbons said he is unable to get a refund from the hotel.

How to keep guests safe

For her clients’ weddings that are going forward, Cardogan said she is doing everything she can to make sure the guests are safe by placing bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere and encouraging people to avoid greetings and displays of affection that involve touching.

“It’s so hard because weddings are all about love and expressing that love,” Cardogan said. “This dangerous disease is spreading like wildfire and you are gathering everyone you know and love in one room. It’s a big burden to carry.”

On Friday night, Wendy Peterson, 53, was getting ready for her daughter’s wedding reception in Spanish Fork.

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With everything in place, including food, she wasn’t sure how many would actually show up. “We may not even get 100,” Peterson said. Multiple friends and family members had already called to say they weren’t going to be able to make it because they were going through chemotherapy, had recently had pneumonia or were otherwise immunocompromised.

Dan Budge and fiancée Tayla Ingles move furniture as they and their families scramble to re-plan their wedding, two weeks earlier than expected because of COVID-19 scares on Friday, March 13, 2020. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The family decided to carry on with the wedding plans, taking precautions against spreading the virus. Peterson’s daughter expressed in a Facebook post that she understood many would be showing their support from afar.

As she put on her makeup, Peterson’s daughter reminded her mother, “There’s a no hug and no handshake policy tonight.”

“We should have that in writing somewhere so people aren’t surprised,” Peterson replied. “I’ll make some signs.”

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