Local leaders now will make decisions on whether masks should be worn in meetings and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the First Presidency said Friday in a letter sent to leaders worldwide.
The letter authorizes area presidencies and stake presidencies to work together to determine what precautions should be taken in their congregations based on local COVID-19 circumstances and health guidelines, said the letter from Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“In doing so, local leaders should consider the guidance of local health and government officials and local customs and conditions,” they wrote.
Area presidencies preside over large geographic areas and populations, usually multiple countries or states. Stake presidencies oversee from five to 13 congregations.
The letter said pandemic precautions will remain in place in the church’s temples.
“For the time being, masks will still be required in temples, where so many who attend are part of an elderly, more vulnerable population and where our desire is to keep temples open and to have as many as possible participate,” the leaders wrote.
Worldwide, more than 5.84 million people have died because of COVID-19, reports the World Health Organization.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant are in very different stages around the world. The same is true for vaccination rates.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said on Friday that the state’s COVID-19 situation is in a much better place.
Utah is ready to transition from an emergency response to COVID-19 to a “steady state” response, he said at a news conference. That means Utah will begin treating COVID-19 like other viruses. Case reports will be issued weekly instead of daily and he will transition Utah’s COVID-19 responses from the Utah Department of Health to the health care system by the end of March.
The CDC reports that the percentage of Americans who have received at least one vaccination is now 76.1%, up from 63.9% five months ago.
Today, 214.5 million Americans — 64.6% — are fully vaccinated, an increase from 54.8% in September 2021, according to the CDC data.
The WHO estimates that 54.5% of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated globally. Those rates are much lower in some areas of the world — 8.67% of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, and 35.45% of those living in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Members of the First Presidency has encouraged church members to wear masks and be vaccinated since the earliest days of the pandemic.
In January 2021, Presidents Nelson, Oaks and Eyring received the vaccine, which President Nelson called “a literal godsend.”
They also have asked local church leaders to be aware of conditions in their areas.
In April 2021, the Utah Area Presidency sent a letter to local leaders instructing them to follow area health guidelines and safety protocols, including masks and physical distancing, as the state’s congregations began to prepare to return to worship services.
The First Presidency renewed its encouragement of vaccines and masks in August and September 2021 as the Omicron variant emerged.
“We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders,” they said in an August letter.
In September, they wrote that past First Presidencies have encouraged vaccinations since 1900, when leaders recommended the smallpox vaccination to church members.
The full letter follows, as published online by the church:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We are grateful that the Lord has heard the prayers of so many and provided the direction that has allowed us to navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic which, in some areas of the world, continues. As governments begin to modify the requirements for travel, masks, and other protective measures, we offer the following direction.
We are now encouraging Area Presidencies, in consultation with stake presidencies, to determine on a local basis whether masks should be worn or other precautions should be observed in the various Church meetings and activities. In doing so, local leaders should consider the guidance of local health and government officials and local customs and conditions.
For the time being, masks will still be required in temples, where so many who attend are part of an elderly, more vulnerable population and where our desire is to keep temples open and to have as many as possible participate.
We thank you for your faithfulness in heeding the counsel provided by Church leaders and pray the Lord’s continued blessings upon you.
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring