My Wedding Reception/A Superspreader Event: A Culture War Report

A black-and-white photograph of smiling guests at a formal event, including the writer of this blog post.

Of those visible and pictured here, roughly 1/3 have since tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. (That’s me on the right holding the beer.) Photo credit: Josiah Bilagot (@jbilagot)

Long-time readers of the site will be familiar with this feature as the rare recounting of a hands-on lived experience. Over the years my co-writers and I have shared our personal encounters attending such events as a LARP-ing session, major esports finals, and even an “Extreme Midget Wrestling” match. While each was a brief glimpse into an occasion the general public may never stumble across, what I’m sharing today is much more personal and, unfortunately, much more likely.

This past Saturday, July 23rd, my spouse and I hosted a reception at the very lovely Bluma & Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to celebrate one year of marriage with our friends and family. It was a far cry from our actual wedding in July of 2021, when the backyard ceremony was comprised of the two of us, our pastor, my parents, my grandfather, and our photographer. Had we all seven gone inside afterward to share a meal in an enclosed room we would have flagrantly broken the provincial COVID guidelines at the time. In contrast the reception included roughly one hundred guests from dozens of households, interacting unmasked, dancing, and even enjoying a Indian vegetarian-vegan buffet-style dinner. It was one of the first pure, unbridled moments of joy I’ve felt in quite a long time.

After the formal event had wrapped up roughly thirty of us headed down to a karaoke bar just north of Yonge and Dundas where we squeezed into their largest room to continue drinking while belting open-mouthed into a microphone before passing it on to the next person. The following morning my spouse and I booked a dim sum brunch for our out-of-town guests. For context, this traditional Cantonese cuisine is commonly eaten from shared plates, with each person using their own personal set of chopsticks to grab what they’d like, as seen below-

A top-down photograph of a number of steamers and small plates of dim sum atop a lazy susan turntable. Hands holding chopsticks and reaching for dim sum reach from out of frame.

It’s hardly dim sum if you’re not eating it off a Lazy Susan. Photo credit: Lucy Lu, who took many other photos for a touching send-off she wrote for Pearl Court, one of Toronto’s best dim sum restaurants. .

I can only imagine how some of you might be feeling upon reading about our weekend. Aghast, possibly, at the irresponsibility. Maybe a self-satisfied smugness as you anticipate a reveal brimming with schadenfreude. It might even be that you’re outraged that we felt the need to exercise any caution at all prior to the evening in question, that it was always proper for us to exercise our God-given right to gather as we see fit (though if that’s the case I wonder how you even got to reading this to begin with).

A positive covid-19 at-home test, with a very faint line indicating that it's positive.At the time of this writing I am aware of over twenty people who have tested positive for COVID-19; though definitions vary, 1/5 of guests feels like a superspreader event to me. The first message I received was around 5 PM on Sunday evening, from someone who attended both the reception and karaoke. The next few were likewise karaoke-goers, which led me to hope and believe that the spread was likely contained to that group alone. My spouse’s test, taken Monday night after returning to the States, can be seen on the right. Come Tuesday morning the first of many updates poured in informing me that the virus has struck multiple guests, with a fair number who ended the night at around ten p.m. 

My first impulse, and continuing emotion, was an immense and overpowering sense of guilt. People that I love and care about attended my event and ended up contracting a contagious disease, with some of them traveling hundreds of miles to get here. While the vast majority are young and to my knowledge all attendees were vaccinated (and likely boosted), COVID-19 develops into “long COVID” in 30% of those infected, and a link had been discovered between reinfection and increased risk of lasting symptoms or effects. I felt personally responsible for every positive test result.

After the initial news I immediately sent out an email to everyone at the guest list informing them that one of them had fallen ill with the coronavirus, fielding questions about where that particular person was sitting without revealing their identity. As the count began to rise I set about contacting those who weren’t part of larger social groups like church members and co-workers to ensure that they were aware of what was taking place. With each and every message I communicated just how deeply sorry I was that this was happening, taking the blame on myself.

Their responses across the board proved to us that we’d chosen our friends (because you can’t with your family) well. Everyone I reached out to graciously told me that they had an amazing time and, crucially, that they knew the risks. It was iterated over and over again that they were adults who were aware the pandemic wasn’t fully over and that they attended knowing this was a possibility. One person even said that we’d all gotten vaccinated with the express goal of having life return to normal. As much as I want the onus to fall on me, the truth is that they were and are right.

I could post multiple links indicating that the pandemic is far from over, and will be a part of our lives for some time, but I don’t see what good it would do. The truth is that even with multiple precautions taken, there’s always some risk of transmission. My spouse and I attended my younger brother’s wedding in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a few weeks earlier, and in spite of having a slightly larger guest list there wasn’t a single COVID scare that cropped up. It’s a roll of the dice, and luck wasn’t on our side.

Speaking of as of this morning I have just taken my sixth daily negative COVID test, which I can only chalk up to God keeping an eye out for me (I’m heading down to the US soon and a positive outcome would’ve made that impossible). It’s completely nonsensical that I could have had such close contact with so many people who tested positive, including kissing my spouse, and not have contracted it myself. The survivor’s guilt is real, but I’m grateful.

The tail end of taking responsibility for inadvertently hosting a superspreader event was calling all of the locations where my guests and I had stayed, informing those I was talking to that they or their staff might have been exposed. Their reactions told me a lot about the way things are now. While one restaurant manager didn’t seem too thrilled, the tone I heard from others made it sound like this was a typical occurrence. One bar owner told us that our server seemed healthy and had gone to school earlier that day.

Reports have starting to trickle in that my friends are slowly recovering and are coming out on the other side of their illness, and I’ve been actively working on managing any lingering feelings of shame. The coronavirus continues to roll on, and is dangerous, but in the same way that corporations and big business long to see the economy get back on its feet so to do people who simply want to celebrate with one another. How we’re meant to do that responsibly, moving forward, I don’t really know. All I can really tell you is what it’s like to be on my side of things.

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