"Given the circumstances, where vaccines have been out for many months, the rollout has been really positive in New York, and understanding that vaccines are really the best way to prevent additional infection," says Curtis, "I thought why not be a really good citizen and make sure that I have that requirement in place for the health of my friends and greater community?"
Curtis is also asking that guests stay outside in his backyard and wear a mask if they go into the house. However, due to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Curtis is reconsidering the mask-wearing requirements. The CDC says fully vaccinated individuals "can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance, and crowded events."
"I suppose if everyone is vaccinated then the indoor mask requirement for guests is not required," he says. "But I wonder if guests may still be concerned, so I may keep that on the invite but not be strict about it. I have a Facebook invite and might post about it to get a read from the guests."
Curtis isn't alone in his request to require that guests come to the party only if they're fully vaccinated. I recently got invited to a party where the invite says you can come "if you're a card-carrying member of the fully vaccinated club." Vaccination is also an ask some couples are making on wedding invitations, explains celebrity event planner Edward Perotti.
"Before the vaccine came out, we had to be very smart and very cautious, in general, with any kind of gathering," says Perotti. "There were protocols in place, there were checks and balances. For me, nothing has changed. But the guest perspective is looking at it as West Side Story. It's the Sharks and Jets. Are you vaccinated? Great, you can come. If you're not, you can't."
Enforcement is where things get tricky. Curtis says he doesn't plan to check vaccine cards when people arrive because he trusts his friends to be respectful and honest. Even with larger events, Perotti says having a vaccine bouncer isn't a good idea. "It opens up too much of an Orwellian conversation to have people with papers," he says. Whether or not vaccinated guests have to wear a mask is up to the hosts and, ultimately, the regulations of the venue they are using.
If the people who want to be vaccinated are vaccinated, why does it matter if others aren't?
For Curtis, requiring vaccination is all about making his guests feel safe. He got COVID-19 last year and is fully vaccinated, so he's not that worried about getting sick himself. "Many of my friends know each other, but many don't, or don't interact very frequently," says Curtis. "I just want to remove any discomfort that a vaccinated guest will have and have them be assured that everybody at the party is vaccinated."
As the host, he sees this as his responsibility. But he doesn't plan to be this strict when attending events hosted by others. "Say I were to be invited to a wedding now. I don't expect everybody to be vaccinated," he says. "I feel like I have adequate protections having had it, and then had my vaccine. I [know] a lot of people have reasons for being against vaccines, which I don't understand, but I'm not going to challenge that in all of my social interactions."
Curtis has gotten positive feedback from his party guests. So far no one has declined because they won't be vaccinated. But Perotti says not all people who are hosting vaccinated-guest-only events have had such smooth sailing. "I do feel like I'm wearing my therapist hat a lot more at this point," says Perotti.
How to avoid leaving people out
If you're having a vaccinated-guest-only party or wedding, Perotti advises having a digital alternative in place for those who will not get vaccinated. "We will always have individuals who don't believe in [the vaccine]," says Perotti. "We have people who don't get flu shots. We don't keep them away, we don't even ask them. This is much more serious, but they can still be a part of it." For example, a host could set up a smart TV with a camera and microphone so virtual guests could still interact with people. For smaller, less-extravagant events, maybe that looks like having a separate virtual celebration with unvaccinated loved ones. "It's just a matter of getting out of the mindset of what a normal event is at this point and thinking about the possibilities of what it could be," says Perotti.
If you're open to allowing unvaccinated guests, consider ordering custom face masks for everyone. "We had a wedding where we had bride and groom masks made. So we had wedding dresses and we had tuxedos for the masks," he says. Guests on the bride's side word the wedding dress masks; those on the groom's side wore tuxedo masks. "It became a light moment [and] everybody actually kept their masks on. I didn't see one male take off his bridal gown mask."
Seating layout that reduces possible transmission is another option. For another wedding, Perotti and his team arranged the tables so there was one table per RSVP card. "If the RSVP card came back as a family of four, we had a four-top. If it came back as a couple, they had a two-top," he says. "We set the whole thing up within the pod of the guests and it looked beautiful."
But if you just want to throw a low-key event with required vaccination sans a virtual alternative (hi, Zoom fatigue), that's okay, too.
"It is completely within your rights not to invite somebody to your party. It's also completely acceptable for guests, at this point, to decline an invitation because they don't feel comfortable," says Perotti. "That's the key—there should be no ill will at this point and at this stage for not receiving an invitation, and/or not accepting an invitation. And I think that's going to be the new normal coming out of this."
Curtis can't wait to bring all of his friends together. "I really want to have fun with people," he says. "Hopefully we can shake some of the anxiety off that we've all been dealing with for the past year by having a semi-normal party."
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