Couples and wedding venues in the Garden State have had the green light for months to party as hard and big as they'd like.

But both sides continue to exercise caution in the face of a lingering COVID-19 threat that has the chance to do more harm with every indoor gathering.

"A lot of our couples, I'd say a majority, now are actually requesting that their guests be vaccinated," said Candice Timmerman, event coordinator for Edgewood Country Club in River Vale. "So that really helps our guests' comfort level."

Because of the trend toward vaccination requests, or mandates, by couples, Timmerman said, guest counts at weddings tend to be lower than most pre-pandemic events.

"Clients of ours that were expecting 250-300 when they originally contracted with us are now in the realm of 150-180," Timmerman said.

Wedding venues across the state are essentially hosting two years' worth of weddings in 2021, due to postponements caused by the pandemic in 2020. While most clients last year couldn't imagine masks or plexiglass as part of their big day, many are now embracing "our new COVID world" by requesting certain safety protocols, Timmerman said.

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At Edgewood, all staff are masked at all times, and the venue has the ability to take temperature readings of all guests, should a client request it.

"It's either extreme caution, or everything's normal — we're trying to cater to both," said Kevin Barry, vice president and operations manager for Molly Pitcher Inn and The Oyster Point Hotel in Red Bank.

With autumn approaching, Barry said, there is more apprehension among couples. Open-air options will become less manageable as the calendar runs deeper into 2021.

If requested, the venues can offer rapid and PCR COVID-19 testing on site through a partner, Barry noted.

Once they're in the building, guests are "celebrating harder" than ever before, according to Barry — in many cases this year, weddings are serving as the first major gathering for family and friends who were separated for several months because of the health crisis.

"They're trying to make up for lost time," he said.

"It's palpable — you can feel the energy and happiness in the room," Timmerman added.

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