As outbreak grows, engaged couples make tough decisions about upcoming weddings

Lauren Hoklin and Taylor Willis are among numerous couples who have decided to postpone their wedding amid the coronavirus outbreak. COURTESY | LAUREN HOKLIN

After a year of planning, Lauren Hoklin and Taylor Willis of Joplin hoped to solidify their relationship on Saturday with a picture-perfect wedding ceremony.

Instead, Saturday will go down as the day COVID-19 postponed their major milestone after a member of their wedding party went into quarantine, others couldn’t fly and their honeymoon cruise was canceled.

“We may still get married at the courthouse,” Hoklin said, “but we are avoiding people at this point.”

The story is the same across the country. Guests are jittery, travel is tangled, and soon-to-be brides and grooms are facing tough choices because of the coronavirus outbreak: postpone, cancel or forge ahead with their weddings? Uncertainty as virus cases grow in the U.S. and elsewhere has sent ripples through the wedding industry, from photographers and caterers to harried wedding planners and venues.

'Someday it will happen'

Hoklin began to reconsider her wedding ceremony after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began advising people to avoid being in large groups as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus.

A nurse, Hoklin was concerned about older family members — including her mother and grandmother — who planned to travel from Montana for the ceremony.

Then she learned her cousin and bridesmaid, McCall Flynn, entered quarantine after coming into contact with a positive case of the virus during her work with Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Although he tested negative for the new virus, Cooney put himself in quarantine after he attended a meeting in which one of the participants later tested positive.

Hoklin worried that Flynn, who has not tested positive, may have exposed her mother and grandmother to the virus. The two women are unable to fly to Southwest Missouri because of their potential exposure.

Other members of the wedding party who live in hot spots of the pandemic also found their travel limited.

“At times I’m mad,” Hoklin said. “We’ve put so much work into this day. But then I remember you can’t get mad for something out of your control. I’m trying to look at the big picture and trying to stay as positive as I can. I’m just hoping someone doesn’t get sick.”

Hoklin said airlines are working with her wedding party to help refund tickets. Officials at her wedding venue, Greystone Mill in Neosho, are working with the couple as they look to have the formal ceremony at a later date.

The couple’s cruise, a gift from Hoklin’s sister, was refunded after the cruise line canceled the voyage.

“Someday it will happen, and we’ll still be married,” Hoklin said. “Everyone has been so understanding, especially our guests. We just don’t want any of them to get sick. I can deal with being sad myself for a few weeks, but I would feel terrible if (someone) came and got coronavirus and got really sick.”

For now, Hoklin and Willis are looking at their options. The formal ceremony will wait until everyone can gather together as a family, they said.

Beyond brides

The effects of wedding cancellations as a result of COVID-19 are starting to ripple through the local wedding industry. From flowers to wedding venues, businesses in all areas are affected as couples cancel or postpone their special occasions.

Luke Sheafer with Frosted Cakerie in Joplin said all of the business' weddings for the foreseeable future have been canceled. He said staff are working with brides and grooms, helping them reschedule for dates later in the year.

“We’re accommodating them as much as possible with deposits and things like that,” Sheafer said. “Most are rescheduling; it’s not like they are not getting married.”

Lavern’s Wedding Chapel in Miami, Oklahoma, is open by appointment only through at least May 1, until the Ottawa County Courthouse reopens to the public, the venue's Patricia Jones said.

Jones said couples using the chapel must have an Oklahoma wedding license. Because some nearby counties are providing couples with drive-up services, she is operating on an as-needed basis.

The small chapel can seat up to 21, but Jones said most couples arrive with only their two witnesses.

Anna Brown with Countryside Flowers and Judie Hoopai with Higdon Florist, both Joplin-based businesses, said several of their brides-to-be have canceled or postponed upcoming ceremonies. Hoopai said several brides have indicated venues are asking them to cancel in order to comply with the CDC recommendations.

Both florists said they are still able to obtain flowers, but Brown said it continues to be a day-by-day situation with suppliers. She said deliveries to local hospitals and nursing homes have ceased, as well as floral arrangements for funerals.

“We are still open, trying to do the best we can now,” Brown said. “We’re still hoping for the best, and still operating while we still have flowers. People still have birthdays and other (celebrations). We take it day by day — that’s all we know to do because we’ve never done this before.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Recommended for you