Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are imploring followers to wear masks in public to defend against the coronavirus as temples reopen and church activities resume.
The Utah Area Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which consists of local leaders who preside over the church’s activities in the region, asked church members in an email to wear face coverings in public “for the blessing and benefit of all.”
The area’s three leaders, citing a “growing chorus of medical authorities,” recommended members of the church wear masks both indoors and outdoors to curb the spread of coronavirus. The Deseret News, which is owned by the Church, obtained the email.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic unlike any the world has experienced in more than a century,” the email reads. “Latter-day Saints are not immune.”
Elders Craig Christensen, Randy Funk and Walter González, who comprise the Utah Area Presidency, applauded the members who returned to church services wearing masks.
“Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public,” they wrote.
There are nearly 30,000 coronavirus cases in Utah, according to the state health department. Almost half of those cases are in Salt Lake County, the most populous county in the state where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered. The highest case rate, though, is in San Juan County, part of the Navajo Nation, which in May had the highest per capita infection rate in the US.
Face masks can prevent the wearer from transmitting the virus if they’re asymptomatic, according to health officials who study the benefits of masks. Paired with social distancing, face coverings are the most effective way to prevent coronavirus transmission, a study published in June found.
Though most religious leaders modified their services for the pandemic, coronavirus safety measures have been ignored in some religious circles. At least two pastors in Florida and Louisiana were arrested for holding services after places of worship were ordered to close during statewide lockdown orders.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended much of its activity due to the coronavirus, sending missionaries home and closing most of its temples. Many of those temples have since resumed services this month as the church begins its own phased reopening, though many church activities remain suspended, including its educational programs and Tabernacle Choir performances.
In a news release earlier this month, the Church didn’t include masks in its list of suggested preventative measures. The church recommended members cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and keep at least six feet of distance from other people, but wearing a face covering wasn’t mentioned.