Virginia wedding

Risk Expert Dr. Davina Durgana Tells Us How to Plan Safer Weddings in Times of Coronavirus

The happy couple, Ariel & Brandon, with their pup, Baloo – photo by Tim Kaufmann

We learned about an amazing Virginia wedding taking place this weekend – on Halloween. The details surrounding safety measures for folks in vulnerable health populations are all being planned by risk expert Dr. Davina Durgana, making it possible for the wedding to be a smash hit and safer for every participant who attends, even the special, older guests most vulnerable to the disease sweeping the world.

I asked Dr. Durgana to tell us all about the wedding and how we can emulate her plans to make our own events safer, fun, and as wonderful as we’ve imagined, even in times of a worldwide pandemic.

Juno getting ready for the costume contest!

What uniquely qualifies you to create this wonderful, safer event environment for your sister’s wedding guests?

“I am an expert risk modeler and I specialize in studying human behaviors including health, environmental, community, and personal security issues. I am Vice-Chair of Statistics without Borders and an Ambassador for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I have also been teaching graduate courses in public health and crisis, research methodology, international development, and irregular warfare since 2013. If there’s anything I understand it is how societies around the world work and the importance of evidence-based data in public policy, especially in moments of crisis.”

She also became an EMT in 2009 and has volunteered with fire departments throughout Virginia and Maryland. “In March of 2020, I left my husband and dogs in Virginia and came up to New York to enlist in Governor Cuomo’s NY Surge Healthcare Force to address COVID-19 and to care for my high-risk parents.”

A sneak peek at some of the decorations being used for the wedding this week by floral designer Elizabeth Chand with City Girl Floral Design

How did you come to decide to plan this wedding the way you did?

“As a risk modeler, I was initially hesitant to participate in a wedding at this time because even with the best mitigation strategies, we have to accept that we are introducing some risk. In our case, our father is very high risk to experiencing severe complications from COVID-19 with uncontrolled diabetes, a history of severe heart disease and major heart attacks with seven stents in his arteries, obesity, emphysema, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, hearing impairment, and he is a recent cancer survivor and amputee.

“That said, my father, like many other Americans, did not want to miss an important milestone in my sister’s life, and so once that decision was made, we all committed to planning the safest wedding possible including guests from at least four different states and some from high-exposure settings. We essentially saw this event as an opportunity to plan a safer family event in advance of the fall holidays in the US and hope that some of these strategies might help others as they plan their own events.”

Dr. Durgana with her sister, Ariel (the bride)

“Once we agreed that this wedding would still occur on Halloween this year, we committed to making the event as safe as possible for all of us, including my high-risk father who would be officiating the ceremony.”

Infographic from Amanda Northrop/Vox

What are the basic precautions that you’re employing for guests?

  • Negative COVID test upon arrival, daily temperature monitoring with a remote sensor. Everyone gets tested as a baseline, but that’s not enough because you can become infected at any point thereafter, especially if traveling by air to the event.
  • Universal mask compliance when within six feet of each other indoors and outdoors is a must in this scenario out of an abundance of caution. Six feet is significantly further than you think it is in a social setting, especially when you are in conversation.
  • Neutral venue to the extent possible, even if under capacity. Households only share living spaces.

We know you have some fun activities you’re planning for the wedding. What are some examples, and how did you decide on those with the safety measures in mind?

I developed a family Olympics activity series that paired up cohabitating couples and teams of households to complement the weekend festivities and ensure minimal household mixing during games!

Some team names are Dances with Werewolves, the Halloweenies, Sons of Witches, Hoblin’ Goblins, Real Housewives of Transylvania, Bone to be Wild, Squad Ghouls, and more! I also purchased personalized trophies for best pumpkin carving, best costume, and overall family Olympics winners.

Did somebody say “Abu”? Bailey sure did!

Additional activities that the wedding will feature include:

  • Pumpkin picking
  • Pumpkin carving contest – socially distanced with competing partners as cohabiting couples or household members.
  • Costume contest
  • Three-legged monster – outdoor three-legged race in costumes
  • Blue Moon stargazing – outdoor astronomy set up as a fun activity during the rare Blue Moon this Halloween
  • Oktoberfest dinner on Friday – fun themed outdoor dinner with individually plated meals
  • BBQ reception – fun wedding outdoor dinner with individually plated meals
  • Fire Pit S’mores
  • Halloween trivia
  • Halloween charades – Teams allocated by household so social distance can be upheld
  • Eyeball cider pong – Everyone drinks their beverages from their own tumblers with masks and straws in place and plays with an eyeball designed ping pong ball.
  • Hanging donut – Tying donuts to string and blindfolding partners and having them eat it as quickly as they can with their arms behind their back
  • Hellhound hide and seek – Having everyone pick which family dog they think can find a hidden treat the fastest in the backyard and awarding points to those who selected the winning dog!

There are a few fun and safe surprises planned for the weekend too, but you’ll have to wait to find out about those until after the wedding!

Custom tea blend created for the special day

What are additional precautions and creative solutions you’re employing for safer attendance for guests?

  • A large bus at great rates to avoid contamination within crammed vehicles
  • Ethically sourced – Local vendors are often are the most price competitive without the large overhead and they ensure that labor protections can be upheld.
  • Environmentally Sustainable – Reusable tumblers and place settings, borrowed decorations, reused or repurposed clothing for costumes and outfits.
  • Tables with assigned seating by households, and distanced by 6 feet outdoors and indoors.
  • Additionally, all households will eat at staggered times so multiple households are not unmasked and eating at the same time, especially indoors.
  • Creative wedding photography with an expert photoshopper to diminish social distance from final photos
  • Family events and activities with teams comprised of cohabitating couples and households so that close contact is encouraged within existing household groups.
  • Designated seating, teams, activities that optimize household groupings minimize household mixing
  • Personalized tumblers for all drinks all weekend with straws so that they are easily consumed from underneath a mask.
  • Individually wrapped and plated food whenever possible

Vendor Credits

Custom tea: Blend Bee

Door sign: Alex Montgomery at The Dotted Pineapple

Floral design: Elizabeth Chand at City Girl Floral Design

The author: rita

Rita Juanita Pike is the granddaughter of aviatrix, Jerrie Mock, first woman to pilot an airplane around the world. Rita has taken inspiration from her grandmother’s life and flight and pursued many of her own dreams in theatre, podcasting, novel writing, and cooking up delicious food from around the world. She now writes on food, travel, pets, faith, and the arts. She’s happily married to Matt, and faithfully serves the very fluffy kitten queen, Lady Stardust.