When it comes to Miami winter weddings, some couples have decided that the show must go on.
Despite warnings against holiday travel issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Miami hotels say many couples are going ahead with December wedding plans. Most events are smaller than in years past, hotels say, and come with a host of new requirements — masks, social distancing — that public health experts say can help mitigate the risk of infection.
“Success is that our guests come and we are following the protocols and the guidelines to ensure that the safety element is there for all experiences,” said Cynthia Boyett, director of sales and marketing for The Ritz-Carlton South Beach. “We are not here to try to push occupancy in this time right now. “
Fernando Cerna, director of sales and marketing at 1 Hotel South Beach, said the largest wedding his hotel has hosted during the pandemic is around 50 people. He isn’t seeing the typical large wedding bookings pick up until early summer 2021.
“The great thing about our property is that it has expansive outdoors space that we can use, and make sure the staff feels safe,“ he said. “There is no amount of revenue that would justify someone getting sick.”
But some celebrants seem to be flouting the protocols, as images on social media show.
Last weekend, a large indoor reception attended by around 100 guests at the Miami Beach Edition hotel featured a full dance floor of maskless people, photos shared on social media show.
Hotels are allowed to fill indoor spaces for events to 50% capacity. Masks and social distancing are required by Miami-Dade County for guests who are not seated.
In a statement, the Miami Beach Edition said that the hotel is following those guidelines.
“The Miami Beach EDITION has stringent health and safety guidelines in place and is selective in the booking process, diligent in the execution of events, and ensures all required protocols are met,” the statement said.
That guests were allowed to dance close together without masks underscores the difficulty of enforcing rules at events where hotel staff are accustomed to remaining largely invisible.
Gregory Polino, general manager of the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, said the hotel has hosted large weddings, up to 200 guests, in its outdoor space. Any couple that books a wedding at the hotel has to sign a waiver saying they agree to assist the hotel in enforcing mask wearing and social distance, and that the hotel staff has the right to intervene and enforce the rules.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “We have to enforce that and it’s a special moment for our guests.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning against travel as the country is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, professor of epidemiology at the Roberts Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work at Florida International University, said much of the risk with big gatherings like weddings depends on where the guests are coming from.
“If the guests are coming from Hawaii then I’m not really worried, but if they’re coming from a hot spot like Texas, then that’s a great concern,” she said. “We have people coming into Miami who may be bringing it to Miami and potentially exposing people who are working at the hotels.”
Once guests have decided to make the trip to Miami, the precautions hotels say they are taking will help mitigate risk, Trepka said, though some risk still remains. Keeping events smaller and shorter, holding them outdoors, and requiring guests to wear masks when they are not eating can help prevent weddings from becoming super spreader events, Trepka said.
Teresa and Alec Alfonso, both 29, hosted a 200-person wedding at the Biltmore hotel in November. They had originally thought the pandemic would be better controlled by the time their date rolled around. When that turned out not to be the case, they worked with the Biltmore to plan a reception that met the 50% capacity rule. Many guests decided not to make the trip, the couple said, and some attended only the church ceremony. Most drove into town from places in Florida.
“From the very beginning we had a genuine message saying, ‘we understand if you don’t feel comfortable joining us,’ ” Teresa said. “We asked people to think about us on that day. We felt the love near and far.”
While everyone wore masks at the ceremony, the rule became harder to follow when the dancing started, the couple said. They placed guests in their 50s and 60s around the perimeter of the room, furthest from the dancing.
“The ceremony is really easy; it’s pretty black and white,” Alec said. “At a reception, which is more social, it’s really difficult to tell people to have masks on.”
Many wedding guests got tested for COVID-19 after the event and reported their negative results back the couple, a sign that the precautions they took kept the virus in check.
Polino at the St. Regis said many couples are live streaming the wedding ceremonies to keep guest lists low. Some are requiring guests be tested before the event and replacing the typical dance floor with post-dinner entertainment. Boyett at the Ritz-Carlton said most weddings are “micro-weddings” for less than 25 people with much of the event happening outdoors, and many guests who are coming to town are traveling on private planes and staying at the hotel for two weeks before the event.
“It’s a different experience, but I think people are taking advantage to say let’s travel first and quarantine and we can feel more comfortable,” Boyett said.
Tom Prescott, executive at the Biltmore, said a recent wedding shrunk in size from 175 guests to 75, and most are fewer than 25 people. The mask rule can be difficult to enforce, he said, and the staff tries to adapt as much as possible.
“I don’t envy our catering team who has to deal with the bride and groom who want to take off the masks for the picture,” he said. “You have to isolate them and do something different.”
The hotel built a plexiglass barrier between the band or DJ and the guests, Prescott said, to further cut down on risk. Trepka, the FIU epidemiologist, said that’s a smart idea, given documented outbreaks associated with singing.
It really comes down to how much risk wedding attendees are willing to take on — both to themselves and their community.
“Everyone in the wedding party has to make a decision on what level of risk they’re willing to tolerate,” she said.