SALT LAKE CITY — Some missionaries serving in or returning to the United States and Canada will end their missions earlier than planned, according to a letter regional leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent to local leaders.
Elders, or male missionaries, serving in the U.S. and Canada will return home after 21 months — three months earlier than usual.
Elders returning to the U.S. and Canada who have fewer than six months remaining in their 24-month mission will be immediately released and asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Elders who have more than six months remaining in their mission will continue as missionaries in their home countries after a 14-day self-isolation period.
Sisters, or female missionaries, returning to the U.S. and Canada with fewer than three months left in their mission will end their mission and self-isolate. Sisters who have more than three months will continue to serve as missionaries after self-isolation.
Missionaries coming home for health reasons will end their service and self-isolate.
Senior missionary couples all over the world, including some already in their home countries, will also be returning home — unless they are doing essential work like running a mission office, according to Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the Utah Area of the church.
Senior missionaries who live at home will not be released but will be asked to self-quarantine until the virus has subsided.
The church announced Friday that missionaries from all over the world will return to their home countries and end their mission or be reassigned to a mission in their home country as COVID-19 continues to spread.
On Monday, this change applied to all missionaries serving in a foreign country, except for those in Australia, New Zealand and some places in Europe, as well as those who were unable to leave the country where they were serving or enter their home country, Elder Christensen said.
A Tuesday update to the church's news release on missionary work, however, said that nonnative missionaries in Taiwan and the Dominican Republic wouldn't return to their native countries, either. By Wednesday, this change applied only to missionaries in parts of Europe and Taiwan.
The regional church leader joined a Monday afternoon conference call with leaders throughout Utah, including Sen. Mitt Romney, who suggested that the missionaries returning to Utah might be able to help with health care or service needs in the state.
"I think we could respond to anything that this group would want to engage missionaries in, including helping in the health care field, taking temperatures, whatever is needed," Elder Christensen said.
There are 67,000 missionaries across the globe, 19,800 of them are U.S. citizens that will be returning to their home country, and 12,000 of those will return to Utah, Elder Christensen explained.
"In Utah, we'll probably take a lot more (missionaries) than we've had and basically expand our force in Utah to try to utilize some of the missionaries that are waiting until this passes and can be reassigned overseas or finish their missions here in the United States," he said.
The church won't put the 12,000 extra missionaries in Utah right back to work until there is something for them to do, Elder Christensen explained.
"But we're anxious to get them back engaged," he said, adding that the missionaries may still reach out to people over technology, or find other ways to serve those in the community.
The church will also continue working with its partner organizations including the Utah Food Bank, Salvation Army and others.
The church has also received approval to set up outdoor testing stations at chapels across the state, though setting up hospital beds inside is probably not the best option, Elder Christensen said when asked about the chapels' availability.
"As far as makeshift hospitals or additional beds, we've got hotels that are vacant, we see some better options. The MTC is vacant; we haven't had that conversation yet, but there are places that are more palatable than a building or a chapel to meet medical needs."
Child care facilities, however, may be an option for chapels that are empty during weekdays — as long as the facility is run by volunteers and is free for those who use it, he said.
"I don't hear anybody complaining about this rainy day fund anymore," said Silicon Slopes executive director Clint Betts, referring to the surplus tithing money the church invests, which caused some controversy earlier in the year.