Emily Webb and her fiance Kevin Beach are getting married in San Diego in early April. Many of their guests for the 200-person wedding are based locally, but a few dozen of them are planning to fly in from across the country.
For many couples getting married this spring and summer, there are so many unknowns with the coronavirus continuing to spread. That's prompting anxiety, and in many cases, a "wait and see" approach. Weddings are expensive and can take months to plan. Postponing or canceling them might mean that couples are on the hook for thousands of dollars in lost deposits for vendors.
The Knot, a wedding website, estimates that couples in the U.S. on average spend more than $30,000 on their ceremonies and receptions.
"I keep wondering how this could all snowball and impact everything from the bachelor party to the honeymoon, to the wedding," said Webb, who works in public relations, by phone. "But as far as we can know right now, we're sticking to everything as planned."
The couple are planning to communicate to their guests that it's not worth it to attend if they feel uncomfortable or potentially unsafe about traveling to California, which now has reported about 60 cases of the coronavirus. Many Americans are increasingly wary about getting on a plane as the coronavirus continues to spread, and carriers are starting to cancel flights. The coronavirus recently surpassed 100,000 cases globally, and at least 14 people have died in the United States.
The wedding industry is among the industries that has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus. Many industry professionals rely on dresses shipped from China, which first reported cases of the virus. And flights are being canceled to popular international destinations like Italy.
Moreover, many wedding insurance policies won't cover health outbreaks, especially if there are still flights available for guests to travel. That lack of certainty is prompting some couples to postpone their weddings until the next year.
"I think a cancellation would be considered a choice that the couple is making, so couples may be less likely to get refunds," said Samantha Capone, a New Orleans-based wedding planner with Three Little Words (Capone also happens to be this reporter's own wedding planner). Capone notes that could change if the situation takes a turn for the worse.
"If travel restrictions prevent the couple or most guests from attending the wedding, that would be beyond the control of the couple and they would be more likely to get refunds if they have to cancel," she said.
Capone said she's monitoring the situation "day by day" and advises couples at this stage to look into their vendor contracts to assess their policies around postponement and cancellation.
For Matt Cohlmia and his wife-to-be Cathy Li, their major concern is for the older family members and relatives who are planning to fly into the U.S. from China. Cohlmia and Li live in Seattle, and are getting hitched in an area just north of the city over the Fourth of July weekend. "Right now, we're basically forging ahead, knowing we might get a lot of people canceling late," said Cohlmia.
"I'm most worried about older family members (like) our grandmothers, for instance," he continued. "it's already tough enough for them to make the trip and ... we just want them to be safe."
Some public health experts are advising against large gatherings, and a series of high-profile business conferences and even a marathon in Tokyo have been canceled. In Singapore, a couple made the unorthodox decision to livestream -- and therefore not attend -- their own wedding because guests were concerned that they had recently made a trip to China.
Increasingly, people are rethinking working in crowded offices, taking packed subway trains, or attending events like weddings. Public health experts say that exercising this kind of caution if possible is a good strategy for the aged, infirm and people with medical conditions like asthma, who face the most lethal risk.
But for many young and healthy people, it's a matter of personal risk tolerance. For those who do choose to travel, there are proven ways to mitigate the chances of getting sick. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water is one of them, and is particularly advisable during flights, suggests Isaac Bogoch, a clinician investigator at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. Guests can also avoid close physical contact like kissing each other on the cheek. Bogoch said that people might be looking for definitive advice about whether to cancel or postpone a wedding but there isn't a "one sized fits all" answer at this stage.
Those who are feeling unwell would be advised to stay home until they recover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.
Some couples are even more worried about their honeymoons than their weddings.
Webb and Beach have booked a trip to Disneyland in Southern California, which is currently still open. But park officials are in touch with public health officials, and that could change if they are advised to temporarily close their doors.
"It feels like it's become a very legitimate threat," she said.
Likewise, Megan McCann and her future husband Mike Hynes, who are based in Chicago, are checking the news regularly to how the coronavirus is spreading in Greece, where they've planned a two-week honeymoon.
Coronavirus cases in the country have risen to at least 66, and schools have started to shut down as public health officials warn about local transmission.
"I'm more worried about that than anything else," said McCann, who's hoping to she won't be out of pocket if it means the couple has to cancel or postpone the trip.
But the couple, who have travel insurance, are cautiously optimistic. "Unless circumstances change dramatically, we're still set on going," she said. "We're both healthy and young-ish, so we feel confident."