Salt Lake City Cracks Down on Large Groups Greeting Missionaries at Airport

Airport officials had worked with the church to craft guidelines for friends and family picking up missionaries, including limits on the number of people permitted. Most were ignored.

Airport officials had worked with the church to craft guidelines for friends and family picking up missionaries, including limits on the number of people permitted. Most were ignored. Shutterstock


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The stricter rules came after hundreds of residents ignored social-distancing guidelines to greet missionaries returning from abroad.

Officials in Salt Lake City are implementing stricter rules on families and friends greeting Mormon missionaries returning home from abroad after hundreds of residents came to the airport over the weekend, ignoring social-distancing guidelines put in place to protect the community from the spread of coronavirus.

“We had lots of people turn out, hundreds of people turn out to welcome missionaries home,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a video posted to Twitter. “This is not OK. This isn’t safe for those missionaries or those families or the people coming to celebrate. This is the way the disease spreads.”

The airport crowd gathered Sunday to meet roughly 1,600 missionaries arriving in Utah from the Philippines, which ordered foreigners to leave after coronavirus took hold there. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had previously issued guidelines for the arrival, saying that missionaries would need to self-isolate for 14 days and that family members and friends should not travel in groups to retrieve them from the airport.

“Parents or guardians should go to the airport alone to meet a returning missionary and practice safe social distancing while there,” the guidelines said. “That way, the missionary is able to properly begin self-isolation.”

Airport officials said they had worked with the church to limit the number of people coming to “two per missionary,” all of whom were told to “wait in their cars until their missionary arrived.” Those guidelines were largely ignored, officials said.

“Moving forward, it is critical for the health and safety of all, that everyone follows our request,” the airport wrote on Twitter.

The updated rules, issued Monday, require anyone picking up missionaries to park in a designated level of the airport's short-term parking garage and remain in their vehicle.

“Missionaries will be directed by airport staff to the parking area for pickup,” the guidance says. “Only one vehicle is permitted to pick up a missionary, and airport security will be monitoring adherence to the guidelines.”

Those instructions “are common-sense measures that reflect that we have previously directed families to do,” Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the church, said in a statement. “It is imperative that missionaries and their families adhere to these guidelines for their own safety, the safety of their families, and the safety of the community.”

Utah officials agreed. Gov. Gary Herbert took to Twitter to encourage residents to adhere to the rules, reminding Utahans that “large welcome parties are dangerous and could greatly increase the spread of coronavirus in our state.” U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, a Mormon who is currently in self-isolation after being exposed to the virus, called the large gatherings “irresponsible.” 

“We need to work together to keep our communities safe,” he said on Facebook.

There were 257 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Utah as of Monday, and one death, according to the state’s Department of Health. More than 100 of those were in Salt Lake County.

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Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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