Increase capacity for RI structured events with COVID trained event professionals (RICWEP)

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Save the Rhode Island Weddings & Event Industry with the RI Coalition of Wedding and Event Professionals (RICWEP) 


Let Our Couples Wed in Structured Events 

A critical change is needed for mass gatherings restrictions on weddings and special events. 

Save the Rhode Island Weddings and Event Industry  

Today, we reach out to everyone with an urgent message. We ask for your help to save the wedding and events industry of Rhode Island.  By signing this petition, you join us in our request that mass gathering restrictions for wedding and event venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic be similar to restaurants in Rhode Island. Below is a message discussing Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, and its effects on Rhode Island couples and event businesses.

The current Rhode Island Public Health Order Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, and the Reopening RI Plan is threatening the livelihood of the local wedding and event industry. It is unfairly restricting gatherings for weddings that couples and their families have spent thousands of dollars on, and is putting them at risk of losing more if this Executed Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, is not changed. 

The small businesses that make up the wedding and event industry are at profound risk of closing due to the economic impact from weddings that were canceled or postponed because of Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020. This order unlawfully restricts a couple's ability to choose how many guests they can have at their wedding. The current Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, forcefully regulates wedding businesses, like wedding and event venues, it eliminates their right to choose to be open based on the same percentage scale for capacity allowed at places of worship, restaurants, and bars. This categorization implies that there is the preferential treatment being given to places of worship, restaurants, and bars and raises concerns over equal protection.

Rhode Island Public Health Order
Rhode Island is currently under Phase Three in the Reopening Plan, which now restricts mass gatherings for a wedding to a maximum of 25 people for indoor weddings/receptions/structured events and 75 people for outdoor weddings/receptions/structured events. The national average wedding size is roughly 150 guests, and many couples host weddings with less than 200 guests. Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, forcefully restricts a couple's ability to choose how many guests they can have at their wedding and requires many couples to reduce their guest list by 60 - 80%. These couples are being forced by the Rhode Island Department of Health to decide whether to cancel, reschedule, or host their dream wedding at a significantly reduced guest count. Other states have considerably fewer restrictions (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2020), and knowing that, our clients, who choose our state as a destination for their wedding, are given an incentive to move to our neighboring states.  This causes a loss of revenue for Rhode Island, as well as devastates an entire industry.


Rhode Island Wedding and Event Venues
Rhode Island wedding and event venues are being unlawfully and unfairly restricted from conducting business based on the current Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020, despite the ability to host large gatherings safely under the same restrictions as other similar businesses (bars, restaurants, and places of worship). The wedding and event industry is dependent on large gatherings (more than 25 or 75 guests, as currently restricted). Without the ability to have larger structured gatherings, we won't have a wedding and special event industry. Thousands of Rhode Islanders will be out of jobs if we don’t make a change. 

Our Open Letter to Governor Gina Raimondo

Dear Governor Raimondo,

We are the Rhode Island Coalition of Wedding and Event Professionals. Although we've had a difficult year, we're grateful that our structured events have kept COVID cases to a minimum.

Rhode Island hosted thousands of weddings between July - October 2020. As of October 29th, The Department of Health has found only 13 weddings in Rhode Island associated with 47 COVID cases. There were no direct correlations or outbreaks reported from attending the wedding. DOH has not disclosed if these weddings were hosted at a private residence or facilitated at a venue with professionals. 

Weddings in Rhode Island are safe. Because of the directives from your office, the Department of Health, and the fact that weddings take place in a structured environment, we have been able to implement plans and practices that kept our clients and their guests safe.

We have now reached a critical time where we need to advance to the percentage model. We respectfully request that you apply the same formula that is currently being used by Rhode Island restaurants and increase attendance at licensed, catered, indoor events to 66% of normal capacity, not to exceed 100 people. We have created a phased action plan, as detailed below.

Wedding professionals don’t just want to work--we need to work. If weddings and events can be executed responsibly by licensed professionals who prioritize protecting guests and employees, we should be allowed to operate. We are prepared to demonstrate to you and to the Department of Health how this can be achieved.

Because of what we’ve already been doing we have kept weddings safe for our clients and their guests. We have followed the guidelines and restrictions that include:

  • Mask wearing
  • Seated cocktail hour
  • No walkup bar service
  • No dancing
  • Onsite screening
  • Strict contact tracing
  • Tables located 8 feet apart with no more than 8 guests at a table

As the colder weather arrives and weddings and events move indoors, we will be even more vigilant and educated. 

The Proposal 

We would like to propose what we will be doing moving forward at controlled, structured weddings and events. 

We will continue: 

  • Mask wearing
  • Seated cocktail hour service
  • No walkup bar service
  • Onsite screening
  • Strict contact tracing
  • Tables located 8 feet apart with no more than 8 guests at a table. 

In addition to the above, we will also do the following: 

Training and Enforcement
We as an industry are creating a COVID-19 training course specifically designed for the unique needs of the event industry, as suggested by The Rhode Island Hospitality Association. Like all venues require a Food Safety Licensed Manager on staff to operate, every venue would have a trained COVID Safety Officer on staff. This individual would be in attendance at events and would assist the staff with enforcing regulations.


Testing
Out of respect for their fellow guests, a large number of our guests have been taking it upon themselves to get tested and quarantine prior to these events. With assistance from the State of Rhode Island, we hope to make rapid testing a reality in the very near future and offer it to all guests prior to the wedding/event. Bryant University and Abbott Laboratories have been utilizing $5, 15-minute rapid tests, so we look at them as an example of how rapid testing can be successfully done.


Pre-Screening and Onsite Screening
We will continue to fully screen guests prior to their arrival using the Reopening RI COVID-19 Screening Tool, as well as by conducting temperature checks upon guests’ arrival.

Contact Tracing
Contact tracing at events is already quite thorough. We have the name, address, phone number, table number, and ages of all guests. We have the ability to seat families that have been quarantining at tables with each other to continue to keep groups small. In the unfortunate event of a positive test, post-event we can easily reach the others at the table and if necessary, the entire guest list. 


Mutual Expectations and Consent
Our clients have repeatedly expressed to us that they would move forward with their scheduled events in the remainder of 2020 and 2021 and not cancel and request a refund as long as they could have larger guest counts and dancing (with masks on). Our clients would be willing to sign a contract stating that they would abide by the guidelines in place and respect the instructions of the COVID Safety Officer.


Masked Dancing (in later phases)
We will now be able to offer safe dancing for guests, in addition to the formal dances that are already allowed to take place. The dancing portion of the evening lasts 45 minutes - 1 hour and about 30% of wedding guests typically dance. Guests would be required to wear masks at all times while on the dance floor. Food and beverages would not be allowed on dance floors, eliminating the need to remove face masks. 

  • Option 1 - Pod dancing, categorized by tables, to keep guests with the people they are dining with. 
  • Option 2 -  If all guests produced a negative COVID test result a traditional dance floor set up would be allowed


The Numbers

In 2019 there were 6,615 weddings in Rhode Island and the average couple spent $30,029 – higher than the national average of $24,675 -- on their wedding.

In 2019, couples spent $198,641,835 directly on weddings in Rhode Island. The wedding industry as a whole generates 60 billion dollars annually in the US.

When you factor in meals, lodging, transportation, and other costs associated with out of state guests attending a wedding in Rhode Island, this number is multiplied considerably.

Across the nation, states are open and stealing revenue from Rhode Island. We are particularly impacted by our neighbors’ higher capacity and percentage models. We can no longer sustain these losses. Connecticut is allowing 50% capacity not to exceed 100 people indoors. New Hampshire is running at 50% capacity indoors. Vermont is at 50% capacity, with a max of 75 people indoors. Maine is at 50% capacity or 100 people indoors. 


In Summary
If we start with the request above to be categorized in the restaurant, bars, and places of worship  percentage model and we maintain low numbers, we are respectfully requesting the following:

  • Phase 1 - To be classified on the percentage model applied to restaurants 
  • Phase 2 - To move to 75% capacity (not to exceed 200 people)
  • Phase 3 - To be at full capacity in order to have a successful 2021 season

If not, we can expect the following economic and potential health results:

  • The additional rise in COVID cases due to unstructured events (i.e. backyard parties) taking place with no current standard across the state for safe and structured events.
  • Billions of dollars in revenue lost.
  • Thousands of unemployment claims.
  • Increased lawsuits targeted at small businesses, putting businesses at risk of being forced to close.
  • Increased complaints to the State Attorney General’s office, due to confusion about couples breaking contracts because of the Executive Order. 
  • Mortgage defaults and other debts resulting in foreclosures, bankruptcy, and unpaid Rhode Island state taxes.

In Closing 

We request the need to change Executive Order 20-58, dated July 29, 2020. We ask to be treated fairly and similarly to other businesses in Rhode Island. This proposal is a solutions-oriented plan created to save the wedding and events industry while maintaining our excellent safety record. We’ve demonstrated a strong focus on protecting our employees and clients, and we should be allowed to operate at the capacities as noted above.

Sincerely, 

The Rhode Island Coalition of Wedding and Event Professionals

720 members and counting