A couple years ago I went to a wedding in Texas. It was great, the bride and groom were lovely and are two of my best friends. We stayed in Austin for a few days and then drove to San Antonio for the wedding, stopping at multiple Whataburgers along the way. So please, do not take this blog as an indictment upon Texas, which seems Fine.
However, this lead in a Texas Monthly story about weddings during the pandemic is very much not Fine:
The wedding photographer had already spent an hour or two inside with the unmasked wedding party when one of the bridesmaids approached her. The woman thanked her for still showing up, considering “everything that’s going on with the groom.”
When the photographer asked what she meant by that, the bridesmaid said the groom had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before. “She was looking for me to be like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy,’ like I was going to agree with her that it was fine,” the photographer recalls. “So I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she was like, ‘Oh no no no, don’t freak out. He doesn’t have symptoms. He’s fine.’”
The photographer, who has asthma and three kids, left with her assistant before the night was over. Her exit was tense. The wedding planner said it was the most unprofessional thing she’d ever seen. Bridesmaids accused her of heartlessly ruining an innocent woman’s wedding day. She recalls one bridesmaid telling her, “I’m a teacher, I have fourteen students. If I’m willing to risk it, why aren’t you?” Another said everyone was going to get COVID eventually, so what was the big deal? The friend of the bride who’d spilled the beans cried about being the “worst bridesmaid ever.”
After the photographer left, she canceled her Thanksgiving plans with family, sent her kids to relatives’ houses so they wouldn’t get sick, and informed the brides of her upcoming weddings that she’d be subcontracting to other shooters. A few days later she started to feel sick, and sure enough, tested positive for COVID-19. She informed the couple. “But they didn’t care,” she says. They didn’t offer to compensate her for the test, nor did they apologize for getting her sick.
This is insane. I am apoplectic. I know that the U.S. gets made fun of for our overly litigious culture all the time but holy shit you should be able to sue for this. At this point, nine months into a catastrophic, world-changing pandemic, reading a story like this makes me feel hard and tense in places inside that I imagine one feels before they commit a murder.
And yet, we know that framing this crisis as one of personal responsibility is both faulty and counterproductive. All that serves is to let the people who are really responsible for all this death off the hook. Are the men and women at the center of this story, who pushed ahead with an elaborate wedding and directly exposed dozens of people to the disease, guilty of making a morally indefensible decision? Yes. Are they, in simpler terms, incredibly stupid and shitty people? Also yes.
But I think it’s worth noting that these decisions are not made in a vacuum. COVID-19 is a terrifying disease. But it’s also extremely easy to miss.
Unlike other pandemics, like the various terrifying, hemorrhagic ebola viruses that terrorize West Africa at least twice a decade, COVID kills slowly and largely behind closed doors. Also, most people who get it are basically fine, despite the fact that its fatality rate is far higher than other diseases that cause similar flulike symptoms. Despite the efforts of many dedicated journalists, the danger of coronavirus has simply not sunk in for much of the country, because of a combination of governmental neglect, deliberate misinformation, and geographic isolation.
It is nearly impossible, for example, to not understand the severity of this pandemic if you are from New York City. But someone from a suburb in Texas has probably not been woken up by sirens and flashing lights multiple times a week for the past nine months; they have probably not watched the National Guard zip one of their neighbors into a body bag on the street below their window. Human beings are exceptionally good at ignoring danger if they haven’t seen death firsthand. We know all of these things about ourselves: as individuals and in groups, humans have a tendency to do intensely stupid, brutal stuff to one another. The ideal is a social contract or government that can temper these instincts and give us the structure to enable our other tendencies of altruism and charity and forgiveness. What we are experiencing is a world in which that ideal does not exist, and with it comes these everyday moments of barbarism.
All that said, I hope anyone who’s hosted a super-spreader wedding during the pandemic gets divorced.