by Jessica Levey
On a mission to increase the size of in-person weddings safely, the Rhode Island Coalition of Wedding and Event Professionals (RICWEP) worked with the local health department to create a new type of wedding professional: the Covid Safety Coordinator. The result of this endeavor, along with 48-hour testing for guests, was an increase in wedding size from 15 to 50 guests.
(It should be noted that because the role is still new, it doesn’t have an official name -- yet. Other options suggested by RICWEP include ‘Covid Safety Officer’ and ‘Covid Safety Specialist.’)
In short, a Covid Safety Coordinator is someone who helps wedding guests follow local safety guidelines. Safety Coordinators will be specially trained on local rules, and able to administer a Covid rapid tests if they are available at a venue. They might be a member of the venue staff, the catering staff, or even a trained member of the couple’s wedding party. The addition of this new staff member also takes the responsibility to monitor guest’s behavior off other vendors, wedding officiants, and couples.
The goal of this new team player is to create safer conditions for couples and their friends and family and wedding staff to gather, laugh, and dance together. By keeping a friendly eye on party-goers and ceremony guests, and encouraging them to continue social distancing and masking, they can help prevent in-person events, like weddings, from becoming super-spreaders.
Luke Renchan, a lead organizer for RICWEP, told AMM that the hardest part of being a wedding vendor right now is understanding whose responsibility it is to ensure guests follow the rules, and knowing the best way to keep people safe.
“It’s tough… I was at a wedding last year where some people were dancing that weren’t supposed to, and it was all new to me... so it’s like, people aren’t supposed to be dancing but they’re dancing, so what do I do? Do I tell them not to dance? Or do I just keep playing music? … Whose responsibility does it fall on? Is it the DJ, is it the venue, is it the caterer? That’s what all of last year was kind of like. And we realized, at the same time, we might be putting people at risk… if we’re not stepping up.”
So RICWEP did just that -- they stepped up. They organized, created a plan for phased reopening, a new safety professional, and better testing guidelines, and then contacted the local chamber of commerce and health department. Now, the group’s efforts have helped to safely ‘re-open’ weddings, while addressing the lack of industry-specific guidance for weddings and receptions.
After a mock wedding hosted by RICWEP and attended by public health staff successfully demonstrated the benefits of Safety Coordinators in combination with new 48-hour Covid testing guidelines, Rhode Island raised the cap on in-person wedding gatherings.
Rhode Island’s weddings can now have 50 guests, up from 15, provided they have a Safety Coordinator present and guests provide a negative Covid test taken 48 hours ahead of the event.
This change is similar to those seen in other states, such as New York, where couples now have the option of inviting 150 guests, provided certain conditions are met in advance. In NY, these changes are causing added frustration, highlighting the gap in communication between the wedding industry and local government, and the need for industry-specific protocol.
While this new role is just now showing up in Rhode Island, Renchan told AMM that professionals in other areas have already reached out to him to learn more. If organizers in other states follow RICWEP’s lead, they may help weddings to continue returning to ‘normal’ more safely everywhere.
Trained staff and Covid testing for guests could help weddings get back to 'normal' sooner.
RICWEP formed in the fall season of 2020, when continuing restrictions on in-person gatherings and a lack of wedding-industry-specific guidelines caused the group to feel unheard and underrepresented at the city and state level.
Although Rhode Island has straightforward safety guidelines for restaurants, bars, social gatherings, and events like concerts or plays, the wedding industry is unique -- involving caterers, DJs and musicians, venue staff, independent wedding planners and wedding officiants, florists, and many others. When it came to gathering restrictions, weddings were in a gray area, somewhere between social gatherings and the restaurant guidelines for catered events. RICWEP wanted better guidance, and assistance, specific to wedding and events professionals.
Renchan told AMM that a video of the group’s mock wedding, held in January, is being reviewed by the RI Department of Health, and will soon be able to share with others.
His hope is that weddings return to normal as soon -- and as safely -- as possible.