Dancing within the lines: Couples navigate New York’s rules for weddings in the time of COVID

Elizabeth Weir is well-versed in the latest New York state guidelines for weddings and other catered events that went into effect on March 15.

The guest list must be limited to 150 people or 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower. All guests and staff must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test within three days of the event, or proof of a completed vaccination series at least 14 days before.

“How do you enforce all those rules?” she asked. “How do you tell people coming to your wedding they have to follow all these rules?” 

Weir’s wedding is scheduled for June 5 at Woodcliff Hotel and Spa in Fairport. What she is most frustrated by, are the rules for dancing. She doesn’t see why her guests should only be allowed to dance in designated zones with members of their own family or household.

“Especially if everyone in the event has been vaccinated or tested,” said Weir. “If we have two tables of friends, how do you tell one friend they can’t go talk to or dance with another friend?”  

Mary Kay Hargather, manager and event coordinator at Harro East ballroom, is taking the requirements in stride after a year of canceled weddings in 2020.

“We’re just happy to be able to be open, that we survived two shutdowns,” Hargather said. 

She said she’ll be proactive when it comes to enforcing rules like social distancing and mask wearing.

“I will have extra staff on,” she said. “I will also have security there at every event, and if we have to go as far as putting markers or tape down on the dance floor, we’ll do that.” 

The owner of The Penthouse at One East Avenue has a different take. Brittany Brandt said she’ll leave it to her guests to make sure they’re sticking with the guidelines.

“I’ve been suggesting that they just assign people to help police that,” she said. “There’s always going to be some Uncle Bob that decides they’re not gonna play by the rules.”

Brandt said she is telling people who book her venue that she is reserving the right to shut the event down if guests don’t comply.  

“I think what it just boils down to is the character of some people,” she said. “You’re either gonna do the right thing and play by the rules or you’re not.”

Allison Curley expects any of the friends and family members who plan on attending her May 15 wedding at Shadow Lake in Penfield to meet the requirements or opt out.

“Most people are understanding of needing to get tested,” Curley said. “I know that there’s also people who are frustrated, so it’s a mixture of both.” 

The Monroe County Department of Public Health is requiring all non-residential food service site operators to notify the department of any upcoming large gatherings, including wedding receptions, by filling out an online form.

Venues must also submit contact information for all attendees within 48 hours after each event. The information would be used for contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 exposure.

With all these hoops to jump through, why not wait until next year?

Curley and her fiancé, Brian Harrington, assume there is no guarantee that the COVID-19 transmission rate would be any different then, or that restrictions would be any less severe.

Hargather said she’s already booked a number of weddings for 2022, but not everyone is willing to postpone their big day.

“I have one bride and groom that put off their wedding four times with me,” she added. “I mean, they just want to get married.” 

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