Baltimore-based medical professionals Julie-Ann Hutchinson and Kyle Burton went to extraordinary lengths to keep their 40-person wedding in St. Louis running smoothly last September. They hired a “covid security guard,” a nurse who, for $ 60 an hour for five hours, checked temperatures, asked customers how they were feeling, and handed out disinfectant and masks.
“My dad came up with this idea, just because he didn’t want family members to have to watch the group and tell them to stand six feet apart,” Hutchinson said. . “He wanted there to be an impartial neutral party.” It made sense to the couple, but Hutchinson admits she thought, “He’s ridiculous. Like what do I Google, “bouncer”? You cannot hire on TaskRabbit for this role. How can you even search on Google? “
Ultimately, Burton’s aunt worked at the local Veterans Hospital and knew someone who could help, and the couple found themselves relieved to have to watch their loved ones. “I thought we were more pandemic,” Hutchinson said (their marriage was profiled in the New York Times). “But it was a relief. It [the covid safety officer] would watch them if they [guests] positioned themselves too close.
Neither Hutchinson nor Burton would change anything. “The conflict we faced was that we wanted to make the most of our time with our loved ones,” says Burton. “We had the option of delaying the wedding altogether, but we wanted to celebrate our love for each other and we wanted our family to be with us.”
Meet the Covid concierge
The two couples – Niemer and Backstrom, Hutchinson and Burton – were lucky: they were able to use a connection to find someone on short notice at a relatively low cost to monitor their marriage. But for those couples who can’t find such a suitable monitor and don’t have a connection to healthcare, the “private covid concierge test” is now a service you can purchase for your big day.
Asma Rashid’s boutique medical practice in the Hamptons offered 35-minute spin testing for guests looking to party last summer at area beach houses. She has already received marriage proposals this summer, including one she is helping plan for a couple where vaccinations are explicitly required. “You are not allowed to enter the party without proof of vaccination,” she said. “It is not an honorary system.”
Rashid did not provide his rate, but similar The services are popping up online quickly and aren’t cheap, costing around $ 100 per test. A company, EventDoc, offers a test offer of $ 1,500 for 20 guests in New York and Florida. Los Angeles-based startup Veritas is gearing up for a busy wedding season outside of its regular clientele of film production crews who are legally required to be tested regularly. The company offers rapid tests for $ 75 to $ 110 depending on the size of the group.
“We have been approved for vaccinations by California,” says co-founder Kristopher Sims. The firm aims to potentially offer vaccinations at pre-wedding gatherings, such as bridal showers, so that guests are vaccinated in time for the wedding day, for a fee.
The demand for covid concierge services is not limited to weddings; summer diplomas, bar / bat mitzvahs, quinceaneras and any other get-together is fair game. But marriages are the most lucrative and reliable, spawning an emerging industry of rapid testing and verification services for those who can afford it. For an even 10 wedding list, these costs can quickly add up.
“This is where the challenge lies: big technology creates a solution for the rich, but in reality it is the masses who need it,” says Ramesh Raskar. Raskar is a professor at MIT’s Media Lab and is launching PathCheck, a paper card with a QR code that proves that you have been vaccinated. “It’s like a certificate,” says Raskar. When a person arrives at a site, their QR code is verified with a photo ID; if both leave, the person is allowed to enter.
On the surface, PathCheck ticks a lot of boxes: it’s pretty secure, and because Media Lab is a nonprofit, it’s free – until now. And PathCheck is a paper product rather than a digital one, which makes it particularly attractive to undocumented immigrants, the elderly and those without access to the Internet.
Tools like PathCheck are one possible avenue for opening large, safe gatherings for a person without much economic means in the United States. But it does have downsides: PathCheck needs to gain traction for people to trust and use it. And, as The Sims and Capello from Veritas note, there is currently no simple national way to verify a person vaccinated in one state in another state. Even if there were, vaccine passports are far from being an undisputed option.
Weddings are another example of how the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities. The decision to have a safe wedding – any gathering, really – this year was driven by wealth and access. Some couples can afford to have a moonlit healthcare professional as a covid bouncer or send home PCR tests. Others cannot and must make the difficult decision to either narrow their guest list and hope for the best, or wait until summer and hope enough people have been vaccinated.
That won’t change anytime soon. Of course, President Joe Biden has said every adult American is eligible for a vaccine by April 19, but children will remain unvaccinated for a period of time, and the April 19 date does not account for the bottleneck. throttling of people wanting vaccines but unable to access them due to demand. While it may be safe to assume that most people are fully vaccinated by June, it will be hard to know – unless, of course, you have the money to find out.
On the flip side, wedding season could be a boon to push those who are reluctant to get vaccinated simply because of FOMO. In Israel, life has generally returned to pre-pandemic normalcy after its mass vaccination campaign, aided by prompting skeptics to get vaccinated so they can be part of social activities, according to a recent JAMA item.
Likewise, Niemer and Backstrom said the expected presence of two vulnerable people – Backstrom’s father, who has stage 4 lung cancer, and her 90-year-old grandmother – may have prompted people to get the vaccine. . “They [guests] knew the issues, ”Backstrom says. “Everyone was pretty much on their best behavior. We didn’t have stubborn and resilient guests.