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Wedding vendors facing worries

NEW YORK — Wedding planners, photographers and other bridal vendors who make the magic happen have a heap of new worries in the middle of the pandemic: no-mask weddings, rising guest counts and venues not following the rules.

Now that weddings have slowly cranked up under a patchwork of ever-shifting state and local restrictions, horror stories from vendors are rolling in. Many are desperate to work after the coronavirus put an abrupt end to their incomes and feel compelled to put on their masks, grab their cameras and hope for the best.

No-mask weddings, no social distancing and dance floors prohibited in many states have been the talk of online groups for vendors around the country.

“People have worked in venues outright looking the other way on masks and size,” said photographer Susan Stripling in New York.

Reports of COVID-19 outbreaks traced to weddings remain rare. One wedding was shut down by local officials at a San Francisco church; the nearly 100 guests had been instructed by the bridal couple to avoid the public entrance and go in through an underground parking garage instead.

Photographer Cherie Schrader in Chicago said she felt deceived when she showed up for a July wedding with 165 unmasked people indoors after being assured all safety precautions would be taken.

There was no social distancing. The crowd mingled at a happy hour and the dance floor was lively.

“I was told by the bride that it was an indoor-outdoor venue, but it was 95 degrees and they never opened the doors,” she said. “The tables were, at the most, 3 feet apart,” she said, noting masks should have been required at all times under those conditions.

“It looked like a normal wedding pre-COVID,” Schrader said.

The rule for indoor gatherings in her state was half a venue’s capacity or up to 50 people, whichever was lower, she said. Schrader, wearing two masks, said she forced the bridal party outside for formal pictures in the heat and humidity.

“They complained because they were all sweating, but I was spending the least amount of time as possible inside,” she said.

Schrader entered the venue, which she would not name out of fear of professional retribution, for short stints to shoot special moments, such as the cake cutting. An associate photographer voluntarily remained inside to work.

“I truly love my brides and grooms, and then to be pressured to risk my life is extremely disappointing,” she said. “I have an 80-year-old mom.”

Alexis Alvarez, a wedding planner in Chicago, said she and other vendors often have no practical recourse to recoup deposits or full payments if they pull out.

She has a long-scheduled wedding with a guest list of about 100 planned for October in Wisconsin, where state health officials recently advised residents to avoid gatherings of more than 10 through late August. The couple had postponed once and might do it again, as some couples have done three times or more.

That, vendors said, has helped drive a desire among brides and grooms to just get it done, with many choosing small, micro-weddings instead of the larger affairs they had dreamed of.

Whether the weddings are large or small, indoor or outdoor, masks have become a sticking point for photos and video. Some couples argue that masks spoil their visuals and are banning them altogether. Others are making them optional. Still more are going the opposite route, wearing bedazzled satin and lace masks to match their gowns.

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