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Airport welcoming for LDS missionaries receives criticism

Hours after hundreds of people welcoming missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints crowded together in an airport parking garage, authorities Monday announced new rules to prevent it from happening again during the coronavirus crisis.

The people who showed up Sunday at the Salt Lake City Airport and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, some hugging arriving loved ones, should have heeded warnings to keep their distance to help prevent the spread of the virus, said critics of the gathering including U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah’s governor and lieutenant governor and the church itself.

While Utah residents welcoming returning missionaries are an airport tradition, officials this time asked for only one or two family members of each returning missionary to come and to stay in their cars — guidance that wasn’t followed by many people, said airport spokeswoman Las Vegas News Nancy, Volmer.

Under new rules announced Monday afternoon by Salt Lake City officials, only one car per returning missionary will be allowed at a designated spot in the garage. Airport staff will direct the missionaries to the designated spot while airport security will ensure compliance. The city rules were agreed to by the city, church and the airport.

Video and photos showed many people inside the parking garage standing much closer to each other than the recommended “social distancing” measure of 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.

“This is irresponsible,” Romney wrote on Facebook. “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.”

The first-term Republican senator has put himself in quarantine because he sat next to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who tested positive for COVID-19.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

The 900 missionaries who arrived at the airport were returning from the Philippines on chartered flights. Thousands of more missionaries are expected to return from abroad in the coming days and weeks after the Utah-based faith said Friday it was bringing Press Release Distribution Services In Las Vegas home an unspecified but “substantial” number of missionaries.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the airport event “dangerous” in a tweet and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said he was “really disappointed in the behaviour we saw from missionary families at the SLC airport tonight.”

“I get it, I’ve been there (and still have a child serving), but this is unacceptable. In a time of shared sacrifice, we must do better to save lives,” said Cox, a member of the faith widely known as the Mormon church, as are Romney and Hebert.

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