COVID-19 crashes Minnesota wedding plans

Two people wearing face masks
Chase Liaboe and Morgan Smith plan to get married on Dec. 12. The two had been planning a wedding with more than 100 guests, but have scaled back to around 20 out of concerns for the health of their guests and the people working at the event.
Courtesy of Jes Clewell, Clewell Photography

As COVID-19 cases in Minnesota have climbed, Gov. Tim Walz has put into place new restrictions on large gatherings, including weddings. For Minnesotans who’ve been planning weddings, or who work in the industry, it’s one more change in an already tumultuous year.

Chase Liaboe and Morgan Smith got engaged last December. They’d been dating eight years, and thinking about a wedding for a long time. They planned to get married on Dec. 12. But as the year progressed, COVID-19 intruded on the couple’s countdown rituals.

“A lot of the little things that you look forward to in wedding planning were slowly getting taken away from us, day by day: Not being able to do tastings for cake, or tastings for catering, not being able to go try on tuxes with your groomsmen,” Liaboe said.

Both have careers in health care. Liaboe is a resident in ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota and Smith works at a cancer clinic.

In October, even before the changes the state made in regulating how many could attend weddings, they watched as other states hit fall peaks in COVID-19 cases. They decided then to scale back their wedding party from more than 100, down to 20 and have looked into getting antigen testing for all guests and staff.

“If we were going to go ahead with having a wedding and any sort of reception, we were going to make sure it was something that we felt comfortable with in terms of health and safety,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 851 COVID-19 cases were tied to weddings through October, which is second only to restaurants and bars, in terms of origins of social outbreaks in the state.

Now that COVID-19 spread has led to new daily records including deaths, Walz mandated that wedding attendance be no larger than 50 starting Nov. 27, and then a maximum of 25 beginning Dec. 11.

For some in the wedding industry, the news came as a gut punch in an already difficult year.

“People can't survive this. They can't have two years of unpaid contracts. I don't know who would be able to survive it,” said Jennifer Rosen, owner of Rosetree Events, based in Minneapolis.

Rosen regularly works with about 20 contractors. She has heard some are struggling because they haven’t had work.

The business usually averages around 70 weddings a year. This year, they’ve had to postpone around 90 percent, some wedding dates moved two or three times. Rosen works the phones constantly with vendors to make changes.

“I'm actually busier now than I ever have been, but not getting paid for it.”

Rosen said she has planned weddings with good safety protocols built in. She doesn’t understand why weddings must be more limited than some large restaurants, which at this point are still allowed 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 150 people. Walz also mandated that as of Friday, bars and restaurants must cease in-person service by 10 p.m.

Wedding DJ Jas Hardy, of Rochester, who goes by the stage name Laidee P, says she’s lost some business and has postponed a lot more. She usually works about 40 weddings a year, but since the pandemic began, she’s done four. She taps her savings for now. 

“I have been able to pay my bills, I've been able to stay somewhat stress-free,” Hardy said. “I'm being screwed by people who just don't want to put on a mask basically.”

Hardy has seen large groups of maskless guests dance face to face and too close together.

“I don't take requests. I let them know in the beginning that I am one who social distances because I need to stay healthy to continue to do my job,” she said, “which I barely get to do enough of already.”

Kelly Larson, an attorney from St. Cloud and her fiancé, Paul Jonas, decided to postpone their wedding two and a half months, until the end of December and revisited their guest list, to invite family and some of the bridal party.

After learning of the new restrictions, the couple decided to cut it down even more. Larson said the state’s restrictions made telling close friends and some family easier. “I'd be lying if I said we weren't disappointed.”

Larson said that in the grand scheme of things, she’s still getting married, it will still be an important day, and it will be memorable.

“We understand there's much bigger issues going on. So I don't want to come across as thinking our wedding is the end all, be all of anything,” Larson said. “We're happy to be healthy.”