Two years ago, Xin Li, 31, married David Liu, 29, in a civil ceremony at the Beverly Hills courthouse that was video-streamed more than 6,000 miles away to her parents’ hometown of Hefei, China.
Li’s happiness was tempered by a sense of melancholy that her mother and father were not there.
“They were just on a friend’s phone video-chatting us and they saw the ceremony,” she said. “It wasn’t the same.”
So the San Gabriel Valley couple decided to host a second wedding Feb. 15 for their parents, extended family and friends.
But in late January, the Chinese government started to struggle to contain the outbreak of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan — a city located in the province neighboring the one Li’s parents called home. Friends in China began to warn Li that her parents might not be able to stray from their home, let alone travel to the U.S. Li’s parents finally told her to go ahead with the wedding without them. The couple decided to postpone it instead.
“I feel like my dad has always looked forward to that moment when he could walk me down the aisle,” Li said.
The world’s attention has been focused on the raw numbers behind a frightening, new disease: More than 3,100 people have died as of Tuesday, with more than 93,000 cases of the disease reported around the world. There have been more than 120 cases confirmed in the U.S. Thousands of flights have been canceled, and the U.S. stock market has taken a major hit, provoking fears of a global recession. Entire cities in China have essentially been locked down.
But even in its early stages, the coronavirus has been a social game-changer, upending the best-laid plans of people around the world. From weddings to conferences to vacations to funerals for dear friends, the illness has disrupted life beyond the physical toll that it has exacted.
“I feel a lot of anxiety about my parents, but they seem to be coping well,” Li said. “I ask myself, ‘Is this already the worst case or is it going to turn out worse?’ We’re just waiting.”
Hollywood-based hip-hop and pop artist Andre Xcellence believes things will get worse. He has purchased protective masks, hand sanitizers and other things to fend off illness. And he canceled a Feb. 8 trip to Washington, D.C., for the funeral of a close friend.
“We had been friends for 15 years and it hurt,” he said. “Some people probably thought I was crazy. But since then, I think they’ve seen I made the right decision. Doesn’t mean it was an easy choice.”
He has also canceled a birthday celebration trip to Australia and one to Brazil, just as that country was confirming its first case of coronavirus.
Still, the disease has inspired him to write a song about it, titled “Wu Flu Pandemic.” Xcellence, who will only say he is in his early 30s, said he’s released the single to raise more awareness about coronavirus.
“I see my friends out there on social media just blissfully unaware of what’s going on in the world,” he said.
On Friday, John Tyler McClain, a 32-year-old East Hollywood resident, was getting ready for a flight to Boston for a family reunion. The trip had been in the works for a decade, and McClain said he hadn’t seen some of his relatives in years.
But with only hours before his plane was scheduled to take off, he was wavering on whether to go.
McClain said it wasn’t so much that he worried about becoming ill. He just didn’t want to be grounded 3,000 miles away if an outbreak occurred in Boston.
“I don’t worry about contracting the coronavirus,” the writing assistant said. “I just get worried about being stuck on the East Coast if they cancel flights. Or not being able to come back home.”
In the end, McClain decided to stay home.
Jane Shay Wald, a partner emeritus of a Century City law firm, was excited about attending the 142nd annual International Trademark Assn. meeting late April in Singapore. For years, it has been one of her favorite events to attend because she gets to see friends and peers from around the world.
Then, on Feb. 14, the association emailed guests. The event would be moved from Singapore to a still-to-be-determined U.S. city in May or June, the email said.
“This decision follows the evolving developments, continuing uncertainty, and global concerns regarding the coronavirus, as well as guidance from the Singapore Ministry of Health,” the message read.
Wald said after the change, she heard from many people who said they would not make the trip to the U.S.
“Often, this is the only time I will see many of these people who I have fostered friendships that have spanned years,” she said. “We talk about more than just work, but about our families and our lives. And now that’s not going to happen.”
For Li and Liu, who are producers of small films, canceling the wedding that they expected would finally see her father walking her down the aisle and unite their family was not an option. The couple decided to postpone the ceremony until August.
A White House proclamation issued Jan. 31 banned travel for people like Li’s parents. The couple had mistakenly believed that her parents would be granted an “immediate family” exemption.
But Li and Liu soon discovered a snag in the fine print: Her parents would have qualified for the exemption only had Li been younger than 21 and unmarried.
“Once we read the fine print, we were like, ‘There goes any possibility of them coming,’” Liu said.
On Feb. 4, the couple sent an email to wedding guests announcing the postponement. But Li’s anxiety over her parents did not ease. They were essentially stuck in Hefei.
“I read so many things every day and I was just really worried about my parents’ health and also their mental status,” she said. “You know they’re confined, almost like under a house arrest.”
Times staff writer Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this report.