Event safety is the most important thing in this nearly post-COVID *fingers crossed* world. As we progress into 2021 and the COVID vaccine becomes more accessible, it’s important to discuss how event hosts can cover their bases to provide guests with the safest, most enjoyable event possible. Whether you’re hosting a birthday party, conference, or wedding, all 10 tips below will ensure that you’re on the right track and thinking about every facet of event safety.
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1. Follow the CDC/State/Local Restrictions
Firstly, and likely the most important, is that the guidelines from the CDC, your state, and your local municipality are followed. The only way to ensure a safe COVID event is to follow the rules. Sure, restrictions on event capacity can definitely put a damper on plans. But think of it like this: Those restrictions were decided upon by disease experts and doctors who have all the facts.
Following the rules lessens the liability risk, and not just for you, as the host, but also for the venue and the vendors at your event. I spoke to a lawyer recently who explained that only the host of the party signs the event contract. For example, the wedding couple would sign the contract with a venue and wedding planner. When a guest is attending your event, they understand that it’s a risk to attend, but they also assume that you are following all the rules. In the unfortunate scenario where someone does contract COVID and passes away, then close family members may want to sue whomever caused the unsafe conditions. Being that the guest of the wedding did not sign the contract with the venue or wedding planner, those vendors are not covered from being sued by the unhappy party.
Most venues and event vendors are already looking at the available guidance and requesting that events reduce size to fit within the limits. If you’re in the predicament of reducing your guest count, then understand that your guests know that it’s nothing personal. Of course, you wanted them there, as you invited them in the first place. Just explain that the occupancy is no longer in your hands. Perhaps offer them the ability to livestream the ceremony portion so they can still feel a part of your day. We wrote a blog post about just this solution here: How to Livestream Your Wedding Amid Coronavirus Social Distancing
Some states or local municipalities have lesser restrictions than the CDC guidelines. I would suggest that you stick to the strictest of the available guidance. Again, an expert came up with that guidance, and even though it would be nice to have as big an event as possible, I’m sure you don’t want to be the reason for a super-spreader event.
2. Promote the Vaccine
As the vaccine becomes more readily available, encourage eligible family and friends to get vaccinated. Right now, it’s still new, so you can’t successfully enforce that everyone be vaccinated to attend your event. However, as the vaccine opens to the general public, encouraging your guests to receive it can’t hurt. That’s just one more additional layer of safety for your event and loved ones.
Consider assisting the older generation who are not as tech-savvy. Most states are requiring online registration and appointments for the COVID vaccine. Navigating the digital platforms may be impossible for those without computers or internet. Getting the vaccine just might be the deciding factor on Grandma or Grandpa attending your event.
Note that the vaccines, no matter the brand, do not protect you 100% against COVID. It is imperative that even if guests are receiving shots, they still wear a mask and follow the rest of the rules at your event.
3. Offer Testing On-Site
At an additional cost to the event host, you could offer guests a rapid test upon arrival to the event. If you plan to hire a medical company for this service, then there are several factors to consider:
- Space – On-site testing requires additional socially-distanced non-event space. Consider zones where guests wait to be tested, receive their test, and then wait for results. In addition to that, you’ll need a space where the medical team run swabs through rapid testing machines.
- Timing – When considering the timeline for your event, you will require additional time added to the schedule if testing is taking place on site. If a ceremony begins at 5:00pm sharp, then you can ask your private medical provider how long it would take for 50 tests to be completed by 4:45pm. They’ll be able to provide you with an idea of the necessary start time. Ensure guests are aware that testing is taking place between X o’clock pm and Y o’clock pm. Also let them know that early arrival is strongly encouraged, as there is no guarantee that they will see the ceremony if they arrive late.
- Testing Policy – You’ll want to decide on a testing policy and inform your guests of this before they arrive to your event. When a guest is cleared with a negative test, at that point they can enter the event site. However, if a guest tests positive, there are likely a few policies you could go with.
- Do you turn away the singular guest and supply them with ceremony livestream details?
- Do you turn away the entire household even if only one person tested positive? This is a very difficult decision. But it is possible that the rest of the household has been exposed, and their results are false negatives because the exposure is too new.
- Do you allow the positive-tested guest to stay in the testing area for a retest? Sometimes the rapid tests are not 100% accurate, and it could have been a false positive.
- Budget – Individual rapid tests on-site at your event could cost a pretty penny. I recently heard of an event host paying upwards of $150 per test. If offering testing on-site is important to you but budget is a concern, then consider cuts somewhere else. You could easily cut welcome bags at hotels, party favors, candy bar (which is discouraged during COVID anyway), or professional transportation services. These, among others, are small elements that no one would really miss. Consider the peace of mind that a negative test will provide them as their gift.
4. Test on the Morning of the Event
Alternatively, if testing on-site is just out of the cards due to budget, space, or another reason, then you could require guests to produce their own COVID test results. It would cost nearly nothing for you and in many cases your guests either, as many states are offering tests for free or covered under health insurance. It would take a minimal amount of time from your guests’ day, as most rapid test results are available in 15 minutes.
Guests would be directed to receive a rapid COVID test on the morning of the event. Result paperwork should be dated with the event date to ensure the results are new. Instruct guests to bring their negative test results with them to the party. They will present the paperwork to gain entrance. Just as you would assign an Usher, you could assign someone from your bridal party to manage the check-in process. Guests who received a positive COVID test should be instructed to stay home and watch the ceremony on your livestream feed.
This also prevents the COVID-positive guest from being in further contact with any additional party guests. Keep in mind that the above-mentioned testing policy should still be in place, whether you offer the test or the test is guest-provided. As long as the testing policy is transparent to the guest and on your event website, ticket, or with the invite, then guests should be understanding of your wishes.
5. Verify Temperature Upon Arrival
Contactless forehead thermometers are readily available online and reasonably cheap. For example, the one pictured below is a best-seller on Amazon.com, 4.5 star rated with over 31,000 reviews, and normally sells for $25.99 (though at the time of writing this post, it’s on sale for $21.62).
Purchase one contactless forehead thermometer, and assign someone from your bridal party to manage the temperature check-in process. As guests arrive, the check-in manager will hold up the thermometer to scan them. If a guest is running a low- or high-grade fever, then you would refer to your chosen testing policy. Anything over 100.4°F is an actual fever.
6. Wear a Mask
As a wedding planner, I encourage all of my couples to require that their guests wear a mask. However, no matter how many times you tell people, there will always be guests who said that they didn’t know and show up sans mask. It’s important to have a small amenity table at the entry to your event that includes disposable masks. I think the black option below will look classy paired with formalwear. As the rule goes…. only the Bride wears white 😊
As the happy wedding couple, you too should be setting an example and wearing a mask. However, it doesn’t have to be a boring black disposable mask. Get creative! After all, it is your party! The set below is made from material with “Bride” and “Groom” stitching (though it’s also available in Bride/Bride and Groom/Groom). There are also masks with clear windows so guests can see your beautiful smile on your joyful wedding day and read your lips during your vows.
There are several ways to provide hand sanitizer to guests while at your event. You could purchase one travel-size sanitizer per guest and place it on their ceremony chair. You could also have place cards with name and table number attached to each bottle. This would be theirs to keep and use as they like. The Germ-X pack below is sold in bulk on Amazon.com and would look lovely with a ribbon in the wedding/event colors tied around the neck of each bottle. At around $1.10 per bottle, that’s an affordable and functional party favor.
Alternatively, you could set up communal hand sanitizing stations with these large Germ-X hand sanitizer pumps from Amazon.com. Consider strategically locating a bottle at the entrance into the ceremony, entrance into the reception, guest book signing, photo booth, bar, etc. Any high-touch zone or entry into a new space would be ideal.
8. Reduce Table Size to Households
Gone are the days of large 60” round banquet tables that seat 10 people from different households. As eating requires you to remove your mask, the safest way to dine during COVID is to have tables spaced far apart, and for each table to only seat one household. The only time during the event that masks are off should be when dining. Other times of the day during ceremony and dancing, it would be fine if guests are in closer contact.
For example, your aunt, uncle, and two cousins that all live under one roof would have a small table for four. If one of those cousins was away at college, but they have had recent exposure to their immediate family, it would still be acceptable to put all four of them at the same table. If you have two friends that are married, they would be at a small two-top. This rule only becomes challenging when you have singletons attending your event. Most parties delegate a table to those that are single, young, and ready to mingle… however, COVID is not the time for that. I would suggest you ask approval from those guests before you seat them alone or in a compromising dining situation with others. Their safety preference should be the most important thing.
9. Implement a Red, Yellow, & Green Safety System
The red, yellow, and green safety system helps alert guests of the comfort preference of other guests. The system is entirely based on the preference of the wearer, and each guest should decide the level of contact they would like to receive at the event. The premise is that this is something the guest visibly wears throughout the night so others can respect their wishes.
I would propose that this system be introduced to guests before they enter the party and be placed at the small entry table with the disposable masks and hand sanitizer. You could have three picture frames to explain the color system, then three bowls of rubber bracelets or glow stick bracelets or stickers for guests to wear. Be sure to have enough of each colored item, in case everyone at your party picks the same color.
- Green means happy with hugs and handshakes. Maybe a green person has been vaccinated or has no underlying health conditions.
- Yellow means OK with talking, but don’t get too close. Perhaps a yellow person has an autoimmune disorder or other underlying health condition.
- Red means you’re keeping your distance and will wave but remain socially distanced from everyone. A red person would be high risk or perhaps elderly.
10. Rethink Food Service
Now onto the final and tastiest part of this post… the food! It’s important to talk to your caterer and see how they are changing their offerings since COVID started. The most important thing is how it’s served. Most caterers are no longer offering help-yourself appetizer stations and dinner buffets. You can certainly still have a dinner buffet, but by allowing servers to man those stations, that saves every guest from touching the serving spoons. This format knocks out the two-sided buffet options which allows guests to serve from both sides of the table and be back at their tables dining faster. Inform the DJ if you are doing a buffet with servers, because it could take more time between announcing up tables.
The safest form of dining service right now is passed hors d’oeuvres and a plated dinner. This allows guests to be more stationary, alleviating closeness in lines, touch points, and cross flow. Additionally, if a passed appetizer experiences a cough or sneeze in close proximity, they can toss the small portion of contaminated food. If your caterer will allow passed hors d’oeuvres and a plated dinner offering, take it!
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And that’s it folks… 10 ways to have a safe event during COVID. Just to recap: follow all the federal/state/city guidelines, recommend the vaccine, offer testing at your event or require guests be tested the day of the event, provide temperature checks, require masks and provide masks for those who don’t bring them, have hand sanitizer everywhere, keep the dining tables household size, allow guests to choose their comfort level with a red/yellow/green color system, and consider alternate food service options. If you can confidently check off all 10 items on our list, then you are on your way to having a safe event! Good luck, happy planning, and stay healthy!