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"Love is stronger:" How couples are vowing to not let COVID-19 pandemic ruin their special day

Lyndsey and Anthony Podyna were planning on getting married in May 2021, but were worried about how many guests could attend their wedding ceremony and reception with health department guidelines and recommendations frequently changing.

On Aug. 24, the couple were married instead at the Chapel in the Pines Wedding and Banquet Center in Sycamore with 13 people in attendance, including their immediate family and bridal party. The day was significant because it is the anniversary of their first date and the day they were engaged.

“Even though it wasn’t the wedding we planned, to me, it was the perfect wedding and the perfect day,” Lyndsey Podyna said. “It was intimate and full of love.”

Podyna said that everything for the wedding was purchased online, including her wedding dress.

After the wedding ceremony, the marriage was celebrated with about 30 guests at a restaurant near the couple’s home in West Dundee. Each guest received a pre-sealed dessert cake.

The couple had a stay-at-home honeymoon and plan to have a larger celebration next year on their wedding anniversary.

“Everything was a lot more cost-effective than our big wedding in May would have been,” Podyna said. “We’ll definitely have a story to tell our kids and grandkids. Even though we’re in the middle of the pandemic, we took time to express our love for one another. It’s not the wedding, it’s the marriage.”

Risks with events, large gatherings

In Illinois’ geographical health area designated as Region 1, which includes DeKalb County, large gatherings have been capped at 25 people or 25% of room capacity beginning last week due to a resurgence in coronavirus cases within the region linked to, in many cases, large gatherings.

DeKalb County Health Administrator Lisa Gonzalez said these gatherings can range from weddings to church to graduation parties.

“What we’re really trying to do is encourage people to limit participation in large gatherings at this time,” Gonzalez said. “But people are going to be attending these events. We’d really encourage, with nicer weather right now anyway, they consider attending outdoor events because the studies show that when you’re indoors and the ventilation isn’t as good, the spread ends up being greater.”

Gonzalez said she didn’t readily have available specific numbers tied to a particular gathering or, for instance, how many cases stemmed from DeKalb County events that contact tracing showed was a source of infection.

“The community spread is there, we know that definitively,” Gonzalez said. “When there are large events, that community spread will only spread further.”

An article in the September issue of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s “Emerging Infectious Diseases” journal discusses a two-hour wedding held on March 13 in Jordan with approximately 360 guests. Data was collected on 350 of the guests, 76 of which developed COVID-19.

“Our study shows high communicability of COVID-19 and the enormous risk for severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 virus transmission during mass gatherings,” the article’s abstract states.

The CDC also does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for events and gatherings, but encourages event organizers to focus on ways to limit people’s contact with each other.

“The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading,” the CDC states on their website.

The wedding-planning website The Knot has created a guidebook online to help with planning a wedding during the pandemic, including how to limit guests, purchase wedding insurance and the importance of practicing social distancing.

The Knot’s guidebook suggests having a stay-at-home honeymoon, planning a wedding celebration at a later date and getting married on a weekday or virtually.

Impacts on the industry

Donna Gable, the director of visitor services at The Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, said that wedding planning during the pandemic has been “stressful and difficult for couples.”

“People have had to re-think the size of their guest list, change their wedding dates or cancel their weddings,” Gable said. “We’re not booking anything in our interior venues until the state enters Phase 5 of the recovery, which is when a vaccine is created. The pandemic has very much affected us.”

Small outdoor weddings have taken place on the Ellwood House’s grounds, but the weather has been getting cooler.

“Outdoor weddings will continue as long as the weather cooperates, possibly through the end of the month,” Gable said.

Gable said that she was invited to attend two weddings this year: one was canceled, the other was held with only 20 guests.

“Everyone has had to be flexible during the pandemic,” she said. “It’s been very difficult and frustrating. I really feel for the couples trying to plan a wedding.”

Jeffrey Petersen, a co-owner of Chapel in the Pines Wedding and Banquet Center in Sycamore, said that the changing pandemic makes it difficult for couples to plan their wedding, especially when the governor imposes new restrictions, such as reducing gatherings from 50 and indoor dining to 25 and no indoor dining as that has happened in our zone.

Petersen said that he’s seen couples moving their weddings to different zones or states. The weddings that are being held are downsized and simplified, with many couples choosing to have a ceremony only with no reception.

“The number of weddings has significantly dropped when the new mitigation restrictions were put into place,” Petersen said. “We are seeing more smaller weddings, elopements and weekday weddings.”

Even though couples cannot have a large number of guests at their wedding ceremony or reception, during the pandemic Petersen said that weddings still being held “proves that love is stronger.”

“Weddings are all about uniting two people together,” Petersen said. “People still want to celebrate their love even through the difficult times of the pandemic.”

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