Mary Hisky and Ryan Brzozowski have been looking forward to saying their wedding vows next month under a homemade wooden arch at the Baltimore Museum of Industry for a year and a half.
The Joppa couple held out hope they could pull it off as they monitored updates on the growing global coronavirus outbreak. But after counting the number of guests who would be traveling from out of town, and how many of their loved ones are considered high-risk if they were infected, they made the difficult decision to reschedule until late summer.
“It’s our wedding. Are we supposed to not touch each other, give each other hugs?” said Hisky, 34, who works in human resources. “It wasn’t worth it — one of us having it, not knowing it and passing it on to someone who might have a much more difficult time fighting it off.”
Wedding venues and funeral parlors are among the many Baltimore-area businesses scrambling to alter procedures, issue new guidance to clients, and, when necessary, reschedule events — the latest indication of the seriousness of the deadly illness that has infected more than 182,000 worldwide and killed more than 7,100.
Just days after ordering all schools closed for two weeks, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all Maryland bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to close Monday and banned gatherings of 50 or more people, an edict that applies to social, community, religious and recreational or sports activities. The Republican governor said the coronavirus outbreak in Maryland is going to be “much worse” than most people expect.
On Saturday, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori canceled all public Mass services until further notice, but advised the Archdiocese’s nearly half-million members that weddings and funerals could proceed as long as attendance is limited to immediate family.
“Compliance with all state and local government-imposed restrictions on the number of people at public gatherings is mandatory, regardless of the type of gathering,” Lori said in a statement.
Brooke Williams and Kevin Lafferty of Parkville have been together for five years and were dead-set on moving forward with their 75-guest wedding at Chase Court in Baltimore on the last Saturday in March, despite the concerns about the outbreak.
But when the city courthouse closed due to the coronavirus, they couldn’t get a marriage license and had to postpone.
“We were planning on going forward with it at all costs, just because of the financial aspect of it,” said Williams, 27. “When I got to the courthouse this morning, everything was shut down.”
Williams said the decision to postpone the wedding until November was difficult.
“It’s hard when you put so much time in and work so hard to get everyone into one spot and it crumbles so immediately,” Williams said. “We’re going to wait it out, hope for the best and that this ends soon.”
Theirs is one of three March weddings and a vow renewal rescheduled in the past week at Chase Court, the historic wedding venue in Mount Vernon, said owner David Egan.
“We’re just moving them way down the pike,” he said. “We don’t know what’s coming down the road. … It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. None of us feel good about it. My stomach’s churning.”
All the couples were flexible and understanding, Egan said, especially when they heard rescheduling wouldn’t cost more.
“We all do our best to not have them incur any additional cost,” he said.
Claire Mullins, marketing and events director at the Museum of Industry, said she was fielding calls “fast and furious” over the weekend from couples anxious about their approaching wedding dates.
But Mullins, who lives in Federal Hill, noted that many of her 20-something neighbors, who carried on with St. Patrick’s Day party plans, didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation and the need for social distance.
“There were bar crawls going on around me as I’m returning calls from people rescheduling their weddings," she said. "Unbelievable. It was a weird, weird moment.”
For all funerals and visitations, Ruck Funeral Homes is limiting attendance to immediate family and pallbearers. In the case of any deaths caused by COVID-19, the company will assist in arranging a direct cremation or graveside service and immediate burial, and neither embalming nor a visitation will be offered.
Many families who want to host a larger memorial for their deceased loved ones likely will decide to postpone it until after the public-health crisis subsides, said Michael J. Ruck Sr., the funeral home’s president.
"We can help arrange that,” Ruck said. “Although, Lord knows what’s going to happen three months from now.”
Keeping Ruck employees and the public healthy during the pandemic will be as critical as serving the needs of the funeral home’s clients, he said.
“If, all of a sudden, all of my staff is diagnosed with COVID-19, how can I help any family?” he said. “Hopefully families understand that and this pandemic will soon be over and we can go back to doing things we’ve been doing since 1924."
Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., one of the area’s largest Jewish funeral homes, is offering only private funeral services and is “strongly recommending” that Shiva be private.
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The funeral home is asking families to make funeral arrangements over the phone, instead of in person, and “to be reasonable and keep [attendance] numbers at a minimum” for services, said Matt Levinson, the president.
The staff at Levinson is working in shifts so that no more than 10 are in the building at the same time, with the rest working remotely, he said.
“We can’t close our doors like other companies,” Levinson said. “We’re a community funeral home. We need to keep our staff healthy so if it does get worse — or when it gets worse — we’ll be able to operate in some capacity.”
Sterling-Ashton-Schwab-Witzke Funeral Home on Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville is offering face masks and encouraging families to stagger their arrivals at viewings to accommodate the restrictions on crowds of more than 50, said Heather Brown, funeral director and location manager.
Hisky and Brzozowski are still working out whether they’ll be able to reschedule their honeymoon to Mo’orea in French Polynesia.
But they’re focusing on a possible silver lining of their new, August wedding date: more of their friends and family members in attendance.
“We’re hoping we’ll actually have more people able to come,” Hisky said. “It’ll just be nice to have everyone together."