Why Weddings Are a Bad Idea amid COVID-19 — and What Is and Isn't Acceptable

Dr. Anne Rimoin tells PEOPLE that weddings can easily become "superspreader" events

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Weddings are a big life event — and while many couples have rescheduled theirs amid the coronavirus pandemic, others have trudged on full steam ahead.

But what should be a day focused on joy and happiness could turn tragic, as weddings can easily become “superspreader” events, Dr. Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, tells PEOPLE.

“Don’t go,” she advises those sitting on save-the-date and RSVP cards. “Right now, we all have to do our part… The rules of virus transmission remain the same. There’s no bending the rules because you have a special event.”

Weddings linked to clusters of new coronavirus cases have made headlines in recent months; health authorities in Maine recently announced that an Aug. 7 wedding was linked to at least 175 new cases and seven deaths after the virus spread to jails and hospitals.

The ceremony had 65 attendees, above the state’s limit of 50, and the positive cases included 56 guests, as well as their secondary and tertiary contacts.

Then in Minnesota, an Aug. 22 wedding that included an indoor ceremony, reception and dance was linked to at least 70 new coronavirus cases, local health authorities said.

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Wedding chairs. PBS

“People have to remember that there have been many cases of tragic loss when people decided to have weddings or celebrations of one sort or another,” Rimoin says. “They’ll do this, and then they’ll feel like they got away with it [and] it was fine because nobody got sick that week. But then there’s another week, and then a week after that and a week after that, and then all of a sudden, your great-aunt is on a ventilator, or your brother who has an underlying condition died.”

Rimoin says it’s important for couples to take time to seriously weigh the risks that accompany hosting a wedding, and guests need to consider things, too. For instance, do you live in a multigenerational household, or do you have family and friends with underlying conditions? And are you able to quarantine at home for two weeks if exposed?

“It’s so much more than just the actual event,” she says.

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It’s also worth considering all the things that come with a typical hours-long ceremony, like eating, drinking and dancing — activities often accompanied by alcohol and heightened emotion, which she says makes the spread of the virus “even harder to control.”

“Weddings are about love and community and commitment, and everybody should be committed to keeping their loved ones and their communities safe,” Rimoin says. “Remember that you’re trying to kick off a long, beautiful future together, and that future should not include putting your loved ones at risk, and doing something that you may pay for in the long term for a few hours of happiness.”

If couples do decide to move forward with a wedding, Rimoin suggests keeping it very small and ideally outdoors, with 10 people or less, masks and social distancing, ahead of a larger ceremony later, when things are safer.

“It’s not always going to be this way, and the more we can clamp down now and forgo these kinds of events, the sooner we will be on the other side of it and be able to get back to the business of living our lives the way we want to,” she says. “If you can wait, wait.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been at least 6.6 million cases and 195,183 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times.

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