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I was nervous attending my first COVID-era wedding, but also happy to be out in the world again | Jenice Armstrong

It felt good to be out in the world again, especially around family. But COVID fatigue aside, now is not the time to get lax.

Metro Columnist Jenice Armstrong (left) at her niece's scaled-down backyard wedding in North Carolina on Sunday.
Metro Columnist Jenice Armstrong (left) at her niece's scaled-down backyard wedding in North Carolina on Sunday.Read moreCameron Turner

My husband and I have mostly been staying home since the shutdowns began in March.

He’s retired and I work from home, making only occasional forays out. We no longer go to the gym. We don’t go to restaurants. We rarely even do takeout. We use Instacart for food deliveries and stick to ourselves. Church is no go.

But then my 23-year-old niece invited me to her wedding in Greensboro, N.C.

She was the first of my parents' grandchildren to marry, and we all were excited to go. But that was before the pandemic struck and we started reading about gatherings and weddings that turned into super-spreaders of the coronavirus.

My niece and her fiancé were planning a big shindig and were heartbroken at the thought of a one-year postponement, so they decided to host a micro-wedding instead. That meant trimming their guest list to 20 people and moving almost everything to their backyard. (The food, for instance, was inside.) I was proud of them for making this difficult decision. Outdoor events are safer because air is constantly moving, which lessens the likelihood of coronavirus infections.

Still, I was nervous about attending. Then, my niece asked me point-blank, “You’re coming, aren’t you?” Like aunties everywhere, I caved but with a caveat: We would not stay long and I would keep my distance from everyone.

Before leaving, I checked: North Carolina doesn’t require a quarantine period for out-of-state visitors, and the rate of new infections has come down considerably in the Tar Heel State.

We drove our camper van, which meant we didn’t have to rely on public restrooms, which can be risky.

» READ MORE: Public bathrooms are risky during the pandemic. These safety tips can help.

On the morning of the wedding, we showed up early to help with setup. We were pleased to see everyone using socially distant greetings: elbow bumps and virtual hugs. It felt good to be out in the world again, especially around family.

But I started to feel uneasy when some early arrivals began trickling in without masks. My husband and I both switched from our lightweight masks to medical-grade N95-style masks. Yes, it was uncomfortable, but we didn’t care. We were more concerned about not contracting a virus that we know is transmitted more easily indoors when an infected person talks or laughs.

All of that aside, the wedding itself went smoothly. The bride was bubbly and beautiful in her gown; the groom, handsome and earnest. It was a simple but sweet ceremony. I got teary-eyed when the bride presented the groom with a shiny gold wedding band that had been melted down from my father’s Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity ring. It complemented her engagement ring that had once belonged to the groom’s deceased mother.

I was happy to note that guests mostly stayed outside, with occasional forays inside for food or to use the restroom. I kept my mask on for almost the entire event, except when eating and posing for the obligatory family photo. I was disturbed, though, to see that most of the young people weren’t wearing masks, not following the example of the couple’s grandmothers, who kept theirs on.

COVID fatigue is real. I get that. But now is not the time to get lax about wearing face masks, washing our hands frequently, and staying at least six feet away from people who don’t live in our household.

Soon, the sunlight was fading and it started getting chilly. The newly married couple were inside surrounded by friends. I could hear their laughter and conversation. Before COVID-19, this social butterfly would have been right in the mix, but these days I avoid socializing in confined spaces. I’m a bit of germaphobe, and the pandemic feeds into that. I’m more cautious, and frankly, scared. My husband and I calculate our risks.

As evening settled in, we decided to just get in our van and drive off. The couple know we weren’t being rude, just keeping our social distance.