New York State's COVID wedding rules: Updated May 3
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Peter's Pointers: Weddings in New York During COVID-19

Updated 5/3/21: It's getting easier to host weddings in New York. But some COVID-19 restrictions remain in place. Here's the latest summary of those regulations and some planning pointers to ensure a smooth, enjoyable wedding day.

Note: This post was originally published in late February and has been updated as regulations change. I'll continue to update this post ASAP when any changes are announced.

Updated May 3: Restrictions further relaxed as of May 19 as a coordinated effort between New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Updated April 28: Several restrictions have been loosened-up or removed entirely. Clarified capacity limits as per Onondaga County Department of Health.

For awhile in 2020, weddings were completely banned, as part of the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even when the restrictions eventually allowed for gatherings up to 50 people, dance floors were still banned.

Knock on wood, Syracuse and surrounding areas have experienced lower infection rates as more Americans get vaccinated. New York State has recently started easing-up on the restrictions, but restrictions still exist.

Current COVID-19 Wedding Restrictions in New York State

New York State's latest official New York State guidance is 17 pages long, even after being updated on May 3. Here, I've summarized those items most-relevant to weddings. Each is followed by pointers to help keep your wedding plans on-track.

Bookmark this page to check back regularly for updates. I'll also repost the link on Facebook when there are updates.

Occupancy Limits (Updated May 3)

The limits depend on whether all attendees (yourselves, guests and all vendors) will be required to show proof of fully-completed COVID vaccination or a recent negative COVID test result upon arrival.

With testing there will be no capacity limits after May 19.
Without testing, the limit will be 250 people indoors, and 500 people outdoors.

Although this makes it sound like vaccination/testing is optional, the current regulations for Catered Events (such as wedding receptions) still require all attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test upon arrival.

How this impacts your wedding:
In previous versions of this post, I strongly recommended couples double-check their venue's capacity before sending out save-the-dates or invitations, but it appears that won't be necessary anymore. Even if the testing/vaccination requirement becomes voluntary and you opt-out of it, the newly-increased capacity limits will be adequate for most Central New York weddings.

Social Distancing (Updated May 3)

The Governor announced that 6-foot social distancing will no longer be required at locations where all guests will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a fresh negative test (and that's still a requirement for Catered Events such as wedding receptions) in order to enter the event space.

How this impacts your wedding:
As long as the rules continue to require 100% vaccination or testing for all guests, you no longer need to provide 6 feet of space in all directions around every table. Now that you can put tables closer together, you can use the extra space to add more tables, expand the dance floor or consider other uses for the space.

But before you get carried away -- if the State decides to make vaccination/testing optional for weddings, and you decide to opt-out, you may have to revert to 6 feet of space around each table.

Does Your Venue Host Multiple Events?

If your venue typically hosts multiple events at the same time, the current regulations require each event has its own "separate and distinguishable" space. The regulation aims to prevent guests from one event from crossing paths with those from another -- even going so far as to say people involved in separate events "shall not... use the same entrances/exits at the same time."

How this impacts your wedding:
If your venue has multiple ballrooms, ask if they've booked any other events at the same time as yours.
If so, can they designate a separate entrance for each event? Find out which entrance your guests should use so you pass the word along to your guests.
If the venue only has one entrance, how do they plan to keep your guest arrivals separate from the other events? For example, if 2 weddings begin at 4:00, the venue might move Wedding A up to 3:30, and Wedding B back to 4:30. Not only would you need to inform guests, but determine any potential "ripple effect" on the rest of your wedding day timeline and notify the rest of your vendors as well.

Curfews (Updated April 28)

Good news! All catered event curfews will expire by the end of May.

How this impacts your wedding:
Most wedding receptions are over by 10pm or 11pm anyway, but if you had been hoping to slide (or even extend) your reception later into the evening... now you can!

Dance Floors and Entertainment (Updated May 3)

Dance Floors (Updated May 3):
Great news: the old rule about separate "dancing zones" for each guest table is gone! We're back to one big happy dance floor but everyone must continue to "wear face coverings and maintain six feet of social distance, except from members of their same party (e.g. dates), family or household."

DJs and Bands:
The May 3 update to the regulations still says DJs and Bands -- if unmasked or playing a wind instrument -- must be separated from attendees by 12 feet or an appropriate physical barrier. With masks, the 6-foot social distancing requirement prevails.

How this impacts your wedding:
Don't sweat it. I'm having a hard time imagining guests will maintain 6 feet of space on the dance floor. And it seems tricky for venues to enforce -- anyone can say they're from the same "party" as another person, and I don't see how any venue could realistically dispute that.

Mandatory Guest Screening & Check-In (Updated May 3)

This is one area where New York State's guidance seems to be contradictory.

The Governor's May 3 press release implied that all guests and staff would be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test only if the event was aiming to exceed the capacity limits of 250 people indoors or 500 people outdoors.

But that 17-page guidance document I've mentioned -- also updated on May 3 -- still says that venues will be required to "check-in" every single guest upon arrival to take care of the following requirements:

1) Testing or Vaccination: Every attendee above the age of four must present proof they are completely vaccinated against COVID-19, or they must have a recent negative test result, as follows:
-- Proof of vaccination: The final shot must have been given at least 14 days prior to the event.
-- Negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event.
-- Negative rapid test within 6 hours of the event.

2) Mandatory Screening. Attendees will have temperatures taken and will be asked a series of questions such as whether they are experiencing any potential symptoms of COVID, and if they have been in recent contact with anyone currently suspected or confirmed to be positive.

3) Contact Tracing. Attendees will be required to provide their name, DOB and contact information just in case any positive cases are traced back to the event. Venues will be required to retain this data for at least 28 days.

How this impacts your wedding:
Venues are responsible for making sure these things are done, so you don't need to worry about hiring anyone or getting a relative, bridesmaid or groomsman to volunteer.

Your responsibility is to make sure all of your guests and vendors are aware of the requirement -- by stressing they absolutely, positively will NOT be allowed into the reception if they show up without proof of vaccination or a fresh negative test.

if you're worried that any relatives (particularly older ones) might forget to bring their proof of vaccination, you might try to get a copy or a photo of the document in advance, then share it with the venue. That way, when those loved ones arrive, the check-in person can find their records in the envelope or folder you provided.

Side note: I am pleased to report I received my second and final vaccination on March 22, so I am good to go for my 2021 wedding season!

County Health Department Report Required? (Updated May 3)

Any gathering above the social gathering limit (250 indoors, 500 indoors) must be reported to the county health department at least 5 days in advance. Among other details, the venue must report a guest count, staff count, and either describe the layout or provide a floor plan. Events may be subject to inspection by local health authorities to ensure compliance.

How this impacts your wedding:
Few (if any) weddings will exceed the limits to trigger this requirement, but if yours will, your venue will need the following details for their report to the County Health Department.

-- Final guest count (most venues require this at least 1-2 weeks out anyway)
-- Load-in and load-out times for all other vendors who will be present day-of-event: DJ, florist, cake/bakery delivery, photographer, videographer, officiant... and don't forget hair/makeup artists if they are working on-site as well.

Just to give an idea of what venues are required to submit, here's a link to the Onondaga County Health Department's Event Submission Form.

Additional Considerations

Venues are primarily responsible for enforcement of these items. However, as a courtesy to guests, you may want to offer a heads-up on certain items such as the mask requirement -- especially if you have guests visiting from other states that no longer have mask mandates.

  • Face coverings are required for all attendees at all times except when seated at their assigned table to eat or drink.
    • April 28: NY State has adopted the latest CDC guidelines state fully-vaccinated individuals do not need to wear face coverings outdoors, "except in certain crowded settings and venues."
  • Assigned seating is required, and guests must remain at their assigned seat anytime they are eating or drinking. To the extent possible, individuals should be seated with members of their immediate household / family.
  • Cocktail Hour: Guests can stand around and socialize, but must maintain social distancing and wear masks. As described above, the only time guests can remove their masks to eat or drink is while sitting at their assigned seat.
  • Dance Floors (Updated April 28): Face coverings required. Venues are also supposed to promote social distancing (at least 6 feet) between parties that do not live in the same household.

Be Nice to Your Venue, This Isn't Their Fault

As has been the case all along, New York State leaves most of the responsibility with venue management or catering companies. If any violations of these rules are reported -- or if any positive cases are traced back to lax enforcement of the rules -- the venue/caterer could face severe fines or other penalties.

A venue could even have its liquor license revoked, which would effectively shut down the venue.

  • Please don't ask your venue or other vendors to "bend" the rules.
  • Please don't get upset at the venue when they deny your aunt and uncle entry to your reception because they left their vaccination cards at home.
  • Please don't get upset when venue staff ask you to put your mask back on because you got up from your seat without it.

Venues might not be thrilled with the rules either, but they are only trying to follow the law and protect themselves. And in the end, these regulations are intended to minimize the risk of having COVID cases resurge.

Additional Wedding Planning Aspects to Consider with New York's New COVID Regulations

Here are a few more things to consider as you monitor the latest developments over the coming months.

Questions for All Your Wedding Vendors

  • Who's paying for staff to be tested?
    Check with all vendors providing any on-site day-of services: If they aren't already vaccinated, do they have a plan to get themselves and their employees tested? Will they absorb that cost or pass it along to you? You'll want to know about any potential added costs sooner rather than later.

    (ICYMI above: I'm pleased to report I'm fully-vaccinated, so I'm exempt from the testing requirement.)
  • Will your venue have to charge more to cover the cost of extra staff?
    The State guidelines make Venues responsible for having enough staff to ensure all of these guidelines are being observed and enforced. If the venue needs to hire additional staff for this express purpose, are they absorbing that cost or will it be passed along to you? Yet another thing you'll want to know sooner rather than later, so you can adjust your budget accordingly.
  • What kinds of safety protocols will they be using?
    The required protocols set forth by New York State focus primarily on venues, and they're the ones who are expected to enforce the rules for themselves, your guests and your other vendors. It might be a good idea to check with non-venue vendors like your photographer, limo company, hair/makeup artists, bakery, DJ/band and others.

    Are they aware of the rules? Particularly, do they have a plan to satisfy the pre-event testing or vaccination requirements? You don't want to have any vendors being stopped at the door and unable to serve your wedding because they didn't know about the requirement, or because they chose a testing location that couldn't return results in time.

NYS Travel Advisory

Good news!
As of April 1, there is no more mandatory quarantine for domestic travelers arriving in New York.

The Governor's office announced incoming travelers will still need to complete a traveler health form but other than that, the requirements are fairly minimal. Previously, travelers had to quarantine for up to 10 days following their arrival in New York. Even with an option to "test out," travelers had to quarantine for at least 4 days pending test results.

Bottom line: if you're inviting people from other states to your wedding, they will no longer need to arrive in New York several days early, just to quarantine.

In Conclusion... Good News, but be Cautious

All in all, things are moving forward at a faster pace than I honestly expected they would. But we still need to be cautious -- officials have said the old restrictions could come back if local infection rates suddenly increase. As long as we all do our part to help keep each other safe, we'll hopefully be OK and see things continue to open up.

I'm not trying to cause any more stress on couples who've already been taking careful steps while planning their weddings... but the rules can change quickly and they can be confusing. I'm just trying to help make sense of everything... I hope these pointers are helpful!

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Peter was professional and easy to work with. We didn't have to worry about a thing.
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Peter Naughton Productions is a mobile disc jockey and voiceover service based near Syracuse, NY.  Since 2011, Peter has specialized in Wedding DJ services for  Central New York, the Mohawk Valley, the Finger Lakes and the occasional road trip to the Southern Tier or the Thousand Islands.  One price covers everything you need for an unforgettable celebration with Peter's stress-free wedding package!
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