One wedding photographer found out he was exposed to the coronavirus via email — twice.
The 26-year-old, Michigan-based wedding photographer knew his job could put him at risk of contracting COVID-19. However, weddings are his main source of income, so after putting his business on hold in March, he started working events again in June 2020.
He took precautions ahead of the weddings he worked, wearing a well-fitting mask and isolating before of all of his gigs, but he can't control the behavior of everyone else at these celebrations.
The photographer was exposed to the coronavirus at multiple weddings
Regulations on the size of events have varied in Michigan throughout the pandemic, with outdoor weddings of over 200 guests being permitted at certain points despite many weddings turning into superspreader events.
At the time of writing, indoor gatherings were limited to 10 guests or fewer, while outdoor events could only have a maximum of 25 attendees, according to the Michigan government website.
But before those regulations were put in place, one wedding photographer told Insider he was exposed to the coronavirus at two weddings that had over 200 guests. He asked to remain anonymous for the sake of his privacy and the privacy of his clients, but his identity is known to Insider.
Both events were considered outdoor weddings, though the photographer said they took place in semi-enclosed venues that had three walls. It was still legal for parties to take place in them, but they put guests at higher risk of exposure to the virus.
Masks and social distancing were required at the events, but the photographer told Insider that guests often didn't follow the rules. People take their masks off to eat or have a drink, and they end up staying off.
"After everyone has a few drinks, naturally inhibitions are lowered and the hugging begins," he told Insider. "As a photographer, I'm in the middle of it all."
Being at the center of those risks led the photographer to be exposed to the coronavirus at two of the weddings that he worked since June.
"After the fact, the couple sends that sad email to let me know that a guest or guests tested positive," he said. Guests were not required to get tested for the coronavirus ahead of the event.
"I do think couples were just excited to get married and optimistic about things, forgetting about the severity of the pandemic," the photographer told Insider, explaining that he didn't think his clients were intentionally being reckless.
He also said he has worked 12 weddings in the pandemic at which no one contracted COVID-19, as guests wore masks and followed social-distancing guidelines.
The photographer's business suffered even more after he was exposed to the virus
He tested negative for the virus after both weddings, but he still quarantined for two weeks following the events to ensure he didn't unintentionally expose anyone.
"From my perspective, I can't take that risk of showing up and potentially being the person that spreads it," he said of his decision to isolate.
The time at home impacted the photographer's business. He had to reschedule photo shoots and hire a photography assistant to work a wedding he was forced to miss.
He had to pay for the assistant out of his own income, which has already taken a hit because of the pandemic. He usually works 20 to 30 weddings per year, but he was only able to photograph 14 weddings in 2020.
So even though he didn't get sick, the coronavirus still had long-lasting impacts on the photographer's business.
The photographer's health comes before getting the perfect shot
In an ideal world, the photographer wouldn't have to be exposed to large groups of people amid the pandemic, but because taking pictures at weddings is his job, that's impossible.
"I go into every wedding day knowing there's an inherent risk there," he said of his work.
He relies on masks and staying as distant from couples as he can to mitigate that risk.
And since his exposures at weddings, the photographer has made a point of communicating with his clients more directly about what his boundaries will be at their events for his own protection, which he says has made the nuptials run more smoothly.
"I do let my clients know beforehand that if I do ever feel a little too unsafe, I will be off to the side and potentially could miss a couple of shots," he said.
When couples hear that the photographer might miss photo opportunities because of their guests' behavior, he says they're more likely to ensure everyone's masks stay on for the duration of their weddings.
He also feels more comfortable at smaller, outdoor weddings, since it's less likely he'll be exposed when there are fewer people in open air.
It's up to couples to keep everyone at their weddings safe
The photographer hopes engaged couples will keep the safety of their wedding staff in mind as they plan their events, especially since vendors have so little control over how the wedding will go.
"When it comes to those events where the masks did come off, staff are all masked of course, but there's nothing they can do because it is their job, including myself," he said.
"Trust science, and start with what would be the safest wedding that you can do depending on your location and go from there," he advised couples.
The photographer also wants engaged couples to know it's possible to have a safe wedding amid the pandemic.
"It's not all doom and gloom," he added. "The smaller weddings that I experienced just seemed to be magical."
"They adapted and came up with these new traditions. It turned out to be fun, and they loved it in the end," he said of his clients. "The smaller ones have been some of the best events I've covered in my career."
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