New protocols are being installed at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, after a new COVID-19 outbreak among missionaries there, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday.
More than 15% of missionaries at the center tested positive this week, according to a statement provided by Sam Penrod.
“Since the Provo Missionary Training Center resumed in-person training in June, precautions and COVID protocols have helped to keep any COVID cases to a minimum,” the church spokesman said. “These precautions include requiring all missionaries to be fully vaccinated before arrival and available testing of those training in the MTC. However, after several missionaries tested positive earlier this week, all 588 missionaries in the Provo MTC were tested and a total of 91 tested positive.
“Of the missionaries who tested positive, few have reported being symptomatic or feeling ill. The Provo MTC continues to operate at a reduced capacity and so there are ample facilities to isolate those who are negative and quarantine those who are positive,” he added.
The outbreak coincides with a national surge in COVID-19 cases, most of them caused by the Omicron variant. Nationally, the number of cases jumped 60% this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While Omicron cases tend to be milder than beta or delta cases of COVID-19, persistent symptoms known as long-haul COVID still occur in 10% to 30% of cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week, according to NY1.
The church’s Missionary Department has installed additional protocols for the MTC’s cafeteria and gymnasium, Penrod said. Other precautions remain in place.
“Face coverings will be worn indoors during all classes, meetings and devotionals,” he said. “Missionaries will not travel to their assigned missions unless they are negative for COVID or have completed all necessary quarantine periods. New arriving missionaries will be required to have a negative COVID test when they report on Wednesdays.”
Fully vaccinated missionaries with callings to serve in English began to return to the Provo MTC on June 23, ending a 14-month hiatus. The church had closed all 10 MTCs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and missionaries had trained solely online from home.
The Provo MTC added missionaries learning Spanish in August. It expanded to teaching 16 languages in October.
Most new missionaries still complete the first third of their training online at home before traveling to one of the church’s 10 MTCs around the world to finish the rest.
All of those MTCs are open now except for the one in New Zealand, which had paused operations because of local pandemic guideline.
All of the MTCs had been following local guidelines. All missionaries must be vaccinated to serve in a foreign country. Other precautions at the MTCs include masking.
For example, missionaries continue to wear masks in gatherings like the one on Christmas morning at the Provo MTC and another at the church’s MTC in Bogotá, Colombia, last month.