Laura Perez and Arlind Limani thought in September that the coast was clear for planning their big wedding at The Mansion at Oyster Bay in Woodbury. Gone were the most intense COVID restrictions on large celebrations, so the pair happily set the date for Jan. 8.
But then came déjà vu, Perez says.
"We started planning the wedding and I think we booked in October," Perez, 41, says of herself and fiance, former Hicksville resident Limani, 31. "We were thinking things were reopening and everything was looking good, and then omicron kind of came out of nowhere."
Perez and Limani are among many Long Islanders who were set to tie the knot when omicron hit that are finding that something they thought was old has become something new again. They say things feel uncomfortably like the confusing and stressful days that characterized the peak of the more deadly delta variant. These couples are encountering dwindling guest lists and heightened health concerns that some say are likely to be a new normal.
OMICRON SHIFTS PLANS
Before omicron hit the United States, about 160 guests had accepted the invitation for Perez’ and Limani’s wedding; then by the end of December, the list started shrinking. People who expected to be part of the nuptials either got the fast-spreading variant themselves, or were afraid of being exposed to it, Perez says.
It didn’t help matters when the groom got COVID during the first week in January and the bride came down with it the next week. The wedding is now set for Feb. 19, but by the first week in January, the guest list had gone down to around 120.
"It was a sinking ship that finally sank when I was positive" for COVID, says Perez, who lives in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens. "It’s been a nightmare."
Steve Kirschbaum is catering director for Lessing’s Hospitality Group. The company owns The Vineyards at Aquebogue along with many other Long Island wedding venues including The Mansion at Oyster Bay, Chateau at Coindre Hall in Huntington, Essex Club in Brentwood, The Barn at Old Bethpage and Estate at Three Village Inn in Stony Brook. He says there haven’t been a lot of cancellations across Lessing’s properties but he says omicron has been a significant factor in wedding planning.
"[W]e have had some postponements," Kirschbaum says. "The postponements aren’t like in the beginning when everyone was moving their wedding date to the next year or canceling." He adds, however, that "absolutely" omicron has been a problem.
Kirschbaum says couples started to really worry about omicron during the Christmas holiday.
"People were getting concerned, or the bride and groom both had COVID so they had to postpone," Kirschbaum says. "We’ve been working with brides to find new dates but they’re not looking to postpone until the end of 2022 or until 2023, they want their wedding ASAP — like the end of February or March."
Alanna Goldman, 30, of Commack, and Grant Ryan, 33, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana were to wed on Jan. 14 at the River Room in New Orleans where they’ll have the ceremony inside the venue and then take the party outside. Goldman says their wedding is growing smaller by the day.
"We invited 130 guests and were supposed to have 100 (coming) but the number keeps going down and now we’re at 87," Goldman said a week before her nuptials. "It’s been a nightmare the last two weeks."
Something always seems to come up to change things, she said.
"A bridesmaid — my best friend from childhood — had COVID, my aunt from Smithtown didn’t want to come because the traveling scared her." She added, "Everyone’s testing before they come, but I’m worried because I have a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old and I want them and everyone to be safe."
And masks were definitely set to be a thing at her wedding.
"I’m requiring masks on the dance floor," Goldman said. "It’s a lot … I can’t cancel because the wedding is paid for — if I could I’d consider it — but there’s always going to be another variant."
LOOKING TO LATE 2022
Heather Malone, 35, is marrying her fiance, Corey Wilcox, 36, on Aug. 21. The pair lives in Bay Shore and will have their reception at The Vineyards at Aquebogue. She says the couple isn’t concerned about omicron as they plan their nuptials because the wedding wouldn’t be until the summer.
"August is so far off and it seems we’re in good shape in terms of restrictions," Malone says.
Malone says that by the time her wedding is held most of her guests will likely have been vaccinated, and she adds The Vineyards has outdoor areas where some nuptial events can be held, and there’s a ballroom with sliding glass doors that can open for ventilation.
So far the original number of about 160 guests is holding steady but Malone says that even if that number decreases, "We’re getting married on that day — barring a hurricane." She says the pandemic may be around for a while at least.
But omicron is still affecting one thing — the couple’s honeymoon.
"We planned a Switzerland adventure and then to go to St. Lucia but St. Lucia has so many restrictions," Malone says. So the couple plans to postpone the Switzerland portion of their honeymoon until perhaps the spring of 2023.