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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Weddings are a luxury’: As COVID-19 pandemic worsens, engaged couples face tough choices

When her partner of four years proposed in January 2020 at a private beach in Hawaii, DaShari Cinnamon immediately started on plans for her dream wedding.

A few weeks later, a worldwide coronavirus pandemic almost tanked those dreams for Cinnamon.

“We were actually on our way back to Washington, in the airport, when the news was breaking on it,” said Cinnamon, 28. “I remember thinking it wouldn’t really affect our wedding. But then it was July of 2020 and that was when we had to make the super tough decision to postpone it, and we postponed it a year.”

The pandemic spelled the temporary end of densely populated weddings in 2020, with social distancing, masks and limited capacity required in their place.

Cinnamon and her partner, Dylan, were one of many couples faced with the choice to either continue with a COVID-friendly wedding they originally scheduled in 2020 or postpone nuptials for a possibly indefinite amount of time.

They chose to delay. Cinnamon said they were grateful their vendors and venue hosts didn’t tack on cancellation fees or take their deposits.

The couple’s first guest list included more than 400 people. Cutting it down to 50, the then-capacity for events, would have meant disinviting most friends and family.

“At that time, you could only have one family per table, and you could only have one family go dance on the dance floor at one time. You couldn’t have any bands,” Cinnamon said. “So really all of the restrictions were making our wedding day not what we imagined, and that’s really what made us pull the trigger and decide to postpone, which was not fun.”

Though the delta variant of the coronavirus has caused a spike in new cases and hospitalizations, vaccination rates in Washington state sits around 55% of the total population.

In the beginning of the summer, cases were down and people were getting vaccinated, offering a sliver of hope for couples who planned their dream wedding for 2020 but couldn’t have it.

State leaders are grappling with how to handle a new wave of the virus while avoiding closures and other restrictions that affected events in 2020. Gov. Jay Inslee reinstated a mask mandate for all public indoor settings that went into effect Aug. 23, which includes indoor wedding venues and large outdoor gatherings.

Spokane County has 41% of its population fully vaccinated, according to data from the CDC COVID-19 data tracker. The county lags behind state and country rates. Hospitalizations and deaths in August have reached their highest peak since the winter of 2020.

Hoopfest and Pig Out in the Park were canceled in August, followed by the cancellation of the Southeast Spokane County Fair.

Spokane venues including the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox and the Pavilion at Riverfront Park are going forward with concerts, with a vaccine requirement in place for both. The Spokane County Interstate Fair is slated to begin Friday.

Without uniform restrictions on events in place, getting married is on many couples’ minds, said Vicky Dalton, the Spokane County Auditor, who noted the office saw an increase in the amount of marriage licenses and certificates filed by couples.

“Definitely more than last year,” Dalton said. “Last year took a real hit.”

Data from the county auditor’s office showed between January and July 2020, 1,265 licenses were filed. It was about 400 fewer than expected, Dalton said.

That number went up in 2021 – in the same time, 1,555 licenses were filed.

Dalton said the most popular month for weddings is August. In 2020, 333 licenses were filed for the month, according to data from the county auditor’s office. In August 2021 that number was at 431, mirroring numbers seen in 2018 and 2019.

Poor air quality also became a factor as fires burned earlier, more intensely and in nearly every part of the state this summer. For brides like Cinnamon who chose a new date based on when she thought the pandemic would finally be over, the challenges have persisted.

“That’s really starting to play into it, like OK, it’s an outdoor venue, so how is the smoke going to work for our guests and for pictures?” Cinnamon said. “It’s just another thing that’s out of my hands that we can’t control.”

Still, weddings have continued during an unusual summer. Crystal Hahn, a Spokane-based photographer who shoots weddings, said she has seen a standard balance of indoor and outdoor venues.

From the weddings Hahn photographed in June, some couples opted for safety measures, but with vaccination rates on the rise, those are becoming rarer, Hahn said. Weddings have largely returned to a sense of normalcy.

“To be brutally honest, when a wedding is being held, I feel the bride and groom feel these are people they trust … so there aren’t too many precautions besides hand sanitizer stations,” Hahn said.

Though a majority are vaccinated statewide, rates vary by county. Cinnamon lives in Walla Walla County, where 52% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker.

It can make it difficult to ask for vaccinations or masks, Cinnamon said.

Cinnamon faced another roadblock when she planned to host her bachelorette party in Seattle, where a number of restaurants and bars recently started to require proof of vaccination for entry.

The spike in cases is also why some wedding-oriented businesses continued to offer curbside and no-contact delivery services.

Marcella Davis, co-owner and dressmaker at Marcella’s Bridal, said the pandemic showed her new methods of getting dresses to her clients.

Marcella’s is based in north Spokane, and Cinnamon is in Walla Walla. The two took advantage of virtual meetings and selected four dresses for Cinnamon to try at home in Walla Walla.

“I think it’s giving them a chance to be creative with how they do things,” Davis said.

She also noticed many more customers this summer, especially compared to last year.

“We were backlogged because you had all of the couples who postponed their wedding last year, and you also have new brides coming in to see you,” Davis said.

The pandemic made people think more creatively about how to achieve their dream settings, food, dress and colors for their day, Davis said. Davis knew of one couple who got married on an interstate highway so they could socially distance but include their full guest list.

“What we realized is that weddings are a luxury,” Davis said. “People realized, we don’t have to have 300 people to have a beautiful ceremony.”

Cakemakers and decorators have also seen a spike, said Mike Halloran, the manager of Happy Cake Co., which specializes in intricately hand-designed wedding cakes.

“The industry was severely hobbled last year, so it has been busier because you have everyone who postponed and new couples,” he said.

The company recently hired more decorators to manage the workload, Halloran said. Being a cake decorator can mean working nights or early mornings, but the artists don’t mind.

“They know it’s not always a 9-to-5 job … We knew it was going to be busy, so we planned for that,” he said.

Cinnamon said she hoped the pandemic would have been over by now. Her dream wedding has had to change because of factors she didn’t consider nearly two years ago, on the evening her partner proposed on a private Hawaiian beach .

“We just want people to hang out and have a good time and celebrate with us,” Cinnamon said. “We’re just going to try to do what we can to make sure that’s the atmosphere. But that’s hard to do with air quality and the delta variant and masks. It’s kind of something that we put on the back burner because it’s something you don’t want to deal with.”

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