PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As people begin to replan their lives after COVID-19 upended 2020, some industry professionals are worried Oregon’s guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus at weddings are difficult to find, unclear and potentially dangerous.
Elisabeth Kramer, a day-of wedding planner based in Portland, tells KOIN 6 News she and other Oregon wedding planners are frustrated current rules surrounding weddings in the state fall under what some call “umbrella categories.” Kramer knows the information is available but says it’s very challenging to find — and that’s what potentially makes it dangerous.
“When things are hard to find, people give up… and when we make up our own rules during COVID, often people get hurt,” Kramer said.
Oregon’s wedding guidelines are currently available in two places on the state’s website. The first is at Coronavirus.Oregon.Gov.
On that site, visitors can click a button that says “What’s open in my county?” They then select their county and choose from a long list of “activities.” Weddings are not an option among the list of activities. Instead, they’re mentioned under “Bars, Restaurants, Breweries, and Wineries” and “Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques.”
“So, if you were to actually try and find like, OK, I’m planning a wedding or I’m working a wedding, you kind of have to guess which category a wedding falls under,” Kramer said.
After selecting either of these “activities,” a website visitor must then scroll down to the FAQ link listed and click on it to see more guidance. This is where guidelines related to weddings are mentioned, in both the FAQs for Bars, Restaurants, Breweries, and Wineries, and the FAQs for Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques.
Another place to find the wedding-related guidelines is at govstatus.egov.com, where Oregon keeps the latest information on the current risk levels in the state and the Guidance Overview Chart. It also features a drop-down menu called “Guidance Based on County Risk Level.”
This drop-down menu will also provide links to FAQ sheets on eating and drinking establishments and faith institutions. Both sheets include wedding guidelines.
The Guidance Overview Chat provides information for the limitations for at-home gatherings, indoor and outdoor entertainment establishments, eating and drinking establishments, and faith institutions, but there is no mention of weddings on the chart.
However, one frustration many wedding venues have with these guidelines is that they feel like they fall under the categories of indoor entertainment venues and outdoor entertainment venues. With these two categories, there is no mention of weddings in the sector guidance. When it comes to capacity, they’re asked to follow the Guidance Overview Chart.
Weddings often involve travel, but travel information is found elsewhere on the state’s website and Kramer says her clients are often surprised to learn that traveling to Oregon from a different state for a wedding is currently considered non-essential. This means out-of-state guests are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Unlike Oregon, Kramer says that in Washington, the COVID-19 guidance for weddings is outlined much more concisely.
Washington state has a PDF file available that was last updated Jan. 29, 2021 with the latest Phase 1 and Phase 2 weddings, funerals, and events requirements. It provides information on what’s expected at both indoor and outdoor venues.
Nick Streuli, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive director for external affairs, says he’s worked closely with the Washington State Wedding and Events Advocates when crafting these guidelines. He said WSWEA reached out to the governor’s office early on in the pandemic and said they wanted to be involved in the decision-making after the pandemic crippled their livelihood.
Aaron Shook, one of the WSWEA founders and co-owner of Perfect Storm Moments, a wedding and event planning company, said when the state first released its early sets of guidelines, it proved that there was a lack of understanding as to what the wedding industry does.
“I think that’s where they really realized that they needed us as a partner moving forward because they just did not know how to capture and bracket guidelines that could help keep weddings and events safe,” Shook said.
Streuli said there are a lot of elements between indoor and outdoor entertainment and dining that overlap with weddings, but ultimately, they decided weddings needed to be in a separate category.
“They usually have food and beverage. They usually have some form of entertainment… They’ve all got these sort of different buckets you have to consider. And so, at the end of the day, it just didn’t make sense to orphan them out on their own without some really specific guidelines,” he said.
Now that all regions of Washington are currently in Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, WSWEA and Streuli are discussing what Phase 3 will look like for weddings.
When the pandemic began, an organization similar to WSWEA formed in Oregon called the Live Events Industry of Oregon. Kimberly Morrill, vice president of the organization and owner of Your Perfect Bridesmaid, a wedding planning company, said they started working with state officials in March, but feel like they haven’t had much leverage when it comes to rules surrounding the wedding and live events industries. When she spoke to KOIN 6 News in early February, she said there was definite room for improvement in communicating with the state.
KOIN 6 News contacted the Oregon Health Authority and told them about Kramer’s dissatisfaction with the way wedding information is shared on the state website. We also requested an interview.
OHA did not agree to an interview, but responded saying, “The state’s guidance is largely based on the locations where certain activities take place so as to encompass a number of different event scenarios, such as weddings, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, fairs, outdoor markets, etc. The location of a wedding dictates the guidance that applies.”
They said they do not have plans at this time to change their guidance.
In May 2020, Kramer, a former journalist, decided to write an article on her website called “Can I legally have a wedding in Oregon?” She wanted it to serve as a resource for her clients who were planning their wedding during the pandemic. Since writing it, Kramer can’t believe the attention the article has received.
“Right now, if you search that question: ‘Can I legally have a wedding in Oregon?‘… This is the top Google-ranked resource for many people,” Kramer said. “This terrifies me… It shouldn’t be a random wedding planner’s blog post.”
Kramer said she shouldn’t be the main resource for keeping people informed. The state should be.
“I cannot wait for the day that the questions I answer are about fairy lights and not about if you have your wedding will you get someone sick,” she said.
Kramer said she knows OHA is extremely busy right now and expects they’re prioritizing releasing information on COVID-19 vaccinations, but overall, she just wishes the guidance was easier to find. She’d like to see it listed as its own category in the “What’s open in my county?” search feature and thinks it should be added to the “Guidance Overview Chart.”
She said vendors and venues typically want to do what is legal and what is safe and they don’t want to get fined. Making this information easier to find could help prevent weddings from turning into super-spreader events.