SALT LAKE CITY — President Russell M. Nelson’s 40-year-old professional ties to China are facilitating a donation of supplies from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that will help Chinese health care workers in their effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The church loaded 220,000 particulate respirator masks, more than 6,500 pairs of protective hospital coveralls and 870 pairs of protective goggles at two bishop’s central storehouses in Salt Lake City and Atlanta on Wednesday morning.

Workers at the Utah Bishops’ Central Storehouse and Deseret Transportation in western Salt Lake City loaded 67 pallets of the protective gear onto trucks and transported them to the airport, where one of two planes chartered by Project HOPE will carry the church supplies to China. The church is partnering with the health-oriented preventive education charity to facilitate its donation to a children’s hospital.

“These are our dear brothers and sisters,” President Nelson said in a statement, “and we feel privileged to be able to offer some small measure of help. We pray for them, and know God will bless them.”

Project Hope already had a plane flying out of Atlanta with other supplies. The church added 12 pallets of the protective gear to that flight.

The coronavirus is a new virus with no vaccine or treatment, and finding a vaccine will take months, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Fear of coronavirus a good time to talk to kids about keeping fears realistic and manageable

The only way to limit its transmission for now is to isolate those who are infected. Known cases of the virus rose nearly 60 percent overnight from Monday to Tuesday, and so far it has killed 107 people, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

However, the number of confirmed cases in China jumped from 2,835 on Monday to 4,515 on Tuesday, the New York Times reported. Officials believe the outbreak originated in Wuhan, a city in the center of China. China and Hong Kong have restricted travel in the effort to contain the virus.

China agreed Tuesday to allow international health experts to aid its containment and research efforts. Project HOPE received approval the same day to ship the church’s supplies.

The supplies are headed to the Children’s Medical Center in Shanghai, which ran out of protective gear just as its case load exploded. Medical centers in Wuhan have received international aid.

President Nelson has strong ties to the country, including an official 2015 declaration that he is an “Old Friend of China.”

He introduced open-heart surgery to China in 1980 after following a spiritual prompting to begin learning Chinese. In 1985, he successfully performed an open-heart operation on the nation’s most famous opera star, Fang Rongxiang. It was his final operation. He had retired as a cardiac surgeon the previous year when he accepted a calling to become an apostle. He received special permission from church leaders to travel to China for one final procedure.

The Deseret News published an account of that operation in 2015.

Dr. Russell M. Nelson’s team gathers with medical professionals outside the Shandong Medical College in Jinan, China, in September of 1980. | Photo courtesy of Nelson family

Concerned by the coronavirus outbreak, President Nelson asked his medical friends in China what they needed, according to a church news release. Latter-day Saint Charities surveyed its global partners to find one sending supplies to the country, said Cameron Hatch, program specialist for the Emergency Response and Refugee Services arm of Latter-day Saint Charities.

“Usually we source the materials in the country where the emergency response is needed or in neighboring countries,” Hatch said. “In this case, supplies in China are scarce and neighboring countries are holding onto their supplies in case the outbreak spreads across their borders.”

Talks began on Monday. Clearance came Tuesday and by Wednesday morning, storehouse workers Chris Neuteboom and David Vazquez zipped up and down broad concrete aisles at 15 mph on forklifts, gathering the pallets and placing them on Project Hope’s truck. They wheeled expertly between giant, orange-and-blue shelves in the 540,000-square-foot warehouse.

Neuteboom said he’s been following news of the coronavirus.

“It’s killing people,” he said. “It’s nice to know we can do a little bit to help out.”

Church officials said they are working with other Chinese agencies to determine what other needs it might meet.

The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment to high on Tuesday, and various news organizations referred to the outbreak as an epidemic that has spread to 14 countries.

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The United States has seen five cases of the virus, but all are in patients who had traveled to China. The virus has not spread from those travelers to anyone else in the United States so far.

The United States is now screening passengers at 20 airports and five land crossings. Americans also are curtailing trips to China. United Airlines announced Tuesday it was cutting back on flights to China because of declining demand.

In 2015, President Nelson returned to China, where he was honored at the Shandong University School of Medicine, where he pioneered heart surgery in the country. Doctors at the school now perform 2,000 heart operations each year. During that visit, he was honored by doctors, the opera star’s family and many others. He also was presented with the declaration as an “Old Friend of China.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is honored by the son and grandson of Fang Rongxiang, the Chinese opera star whose life he saved as a heart surgeon. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Three Chinese universities have awarded him honorary professorships.

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