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Utah Officials Express Concern After Seeing Families Gather To Welcome Missionaries

Families welcome home missionaries at the Salt Lake International Airport on March 22, 2020.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –  Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov Spencer Cox have been asking people to practice social distancing in an effort to prevent further COVID-19 spread in Utah.

However, many families welcoming home missionaries at the Salt Lake International Airport on Sunday disregarded those social distancing requests. Cox took to Twitter Sunday – just hours after the state announced its first COVID-19-related death – to express his disappointment.

Around 1,600 missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived home early from The Philippines, after the country imposed sweeping quarantine measures. Family members holding signs welcoming home their loved ones congregated in the airport parking lot.

The Church released the following statement to the missionaries’ families before their arrival:

As many missionaries return home in the coming weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of where they traveled from. This is an important precaution in accordance with guidelines from the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though many of these missionaries have already been self-isolating or come from areas where the virus is not as prevalent.

“Parents or guardians should go to the airport alone to meet a returning missionary and practice safe social distancing while there. That way, the missionary is able to properly begin self-isolation. Upon returning home, missionaries should strictly follow the self-isolation recommendations of the CDC which include limiting contact with others and avoiding leaving their homes for any reason. They are encouraged to stay in a well-ventilated room, preferably alone. If that isn’t possible, the missionary should stay six feet away from others in the room. They should use good hygiene and regularly wash their hands. If a missionary develops any symptoms of a respiratory illness, they should contact a local health provider.

We ask families, friends, and community members to help support and encourage missionaries to follow these guidelines to help prevent any potential spread of illness and keep missionaries and those around them safe.

Herbert also tweeted a warning before the missionaries arrived, reminding residents of the risk of gathering in large groups.

Cox wasn’t the only state official to share concerns.

Gov. Herbert also tweeted about the missionary return, asking families and friends to avoid “large welcome parties.”

“Parents, please go to the airport alone to pick up your returning missionaries,” he tweeted. “Help them strictly follow all self-isolation procedures for their first 14 days at home.”

On Monday morning, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall added her voice to the list.

“Our community’s health relies on individuals using good judgment,” she wrote in a tweet that accompanied a video. “Just because you aren’t forcibly barred from doing something doesn’t mean it’s OK. We’re working to ensure it won’t happen again.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, posted on Facebook that missionaries returning home due to the spread of coronavirus should not be met by groups.

“This is irresponsible,” he wrote. “Parents, please pick up your missionary from the airport alone and help them strictly follow self-quarantine procedures for their first 14 days at home. We need to work together to keep our communities safe.”

Romney is currently in self-quarantine after he sat next to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for extended periods of time. Paul’s office on Sunday announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.

There were a total of 181 confirmed cases of the virus in Utah as of Sunday, though that number will likely be updated Monday during the Utah Department of Health’s daily press briefing.

According to UDOH officials, social distancing includes taking measures such as avoiding groups of 10 people or more. If that’s not possible, people should try to stay at least 6 feet apart from each other.


Coronavirus Resources  

How Do I Prevent It?  

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:  

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick  
  • Avoid touching your face  
  • Stay home when you are sick  
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash  
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.  
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.  

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.  

How To Get Help  

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth service through your healthcare providers.   

Additional Resources  

If  you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov. 

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