Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has twice relaxed its restrictions on large outdoor gatherings over the past week, increasing the cap for all outdoor gatherings from 50 to 100 people, and allowing up to 200 people to attend outdoor spectator events like concerts, provided guests are separated into areas of no more than 50 people.
The increase in gathering size to 100 people was geared toward allowing weddings and similar types of outdoor celebrations, but those in the wedding industry — with an estimated $937 million annual output to Maine’s economy — say the change in gathering size doesn’t do much to help the industry this year.
“It’s a nice gesture, but it comes a little too late for our industry,” said Fausto Pifferrer, co-founder of Blue Elephant Events and Catering in Saco and co-owner of Real Maine Weddings magazine. “And there are still a lot of questions about what these guidelines actually mean.”
Included in the guidelines, for example, is a stipulation that no more than five people would be allowed per 1,000 square feet of space, which would mean that in order for people to have 100 people at an event, they would need at least 20,000 square feet of space, or about half an acre — despite the fact that 50 people are still allowed at indoor events and for indoor dining, regardless of the square footage of the venue or restaurant.
Pifferrer said that he has already had a few brides reach out to him asking about the new guidelines, but said that most people planning weddings have already postponed their celebrations to next year, or have accepted the fact that they will be having fewer than 50 guests and have planned accordingly.
“People don’t want to take a chance on a potential spike in numbers again,” he said. “Even if they can invite more people now, they just don’t want to risk it.”
The other method of hosting an outdoor event — mainly for sporting events, concerts and other performances — involves dividing 200 people into four groups of 50, with each group spaced 14 feet apart, and with each group having its own bathroom, entrance and exit, and access to a bar and food.
Event planners could, conceivably, hold a wedding under the spectator event rules, and Pifferer and colleagues initially considered doing that, but quickly concluded it would be unrealistic.
For a wedding planned under that method, the groups would not be allowed to intermingle, and members of the wedding party would not be allowed to interact with more than one of the groups. Pifferrer also said that adding bathrooms and bars would likely be prohibitively expensive for many people planning weddings.
The increases in outdoor gathering size are in line with a growing number of studies that indicate there’s a lower risk of COVID-19 transmission at outdoor activities.
“This is all to prevent intermingling of large crowds,” said Kate Foye, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, who said the increase would still help mitigate the risks around large groups of people gathering together.