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SALT LAKE CITY — Masks will be required in temples because of the resurgence of COVID-19, according to a letter released Wednesday morning by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors again urged vaccinations in the letter. They said previous church leaders made similar calls about smallpox in 1900 and polio in 1957.
"As cases of COVID-19 increase in many areas, we want to do everything possible to allow temples to remain open," the First Presidency said. "Therefore, effective immediately, all temple patrons and workers are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the temple."
The policy will be temporary, the letter said, "rescinded as soon as circumstances permit."
The First Presidency renewed its repeated calls for church members to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by vaccination and masking.
They noted 121 years of church precedent for calling for vaccinations.
In 1900, church President Lorenzo Snow and his first counselor, President George Q. Cannon, recommended that members seek out the smallpox vaccination.
"To the question of vaccination we have given careful thought and consideration," they said in a message published in the Deseret Evening News. "We are aware that there is a difference of opinion in the community as to the merits of this question; and … we have felt reluctant to express ourselves publicly on it. Now, however, we feel to … suggest and recommend that the people generally avail themselves of the opportunity to become vaccinated(.)"
They added, "We take this opportunity of suggesting (to the Saints) … that they employ every precaution to prevent the spread of the contagion."
In 1957, the First Presidency supported vaccination against polio and endorsed a fundraising drive for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
"We have no hesitancy in urging all members of the church and other citizens to support the campaign now in progress by giving as generously as each can afford, and by making sure that all members of families, unless exempted on doctors' orders, receive Salk vaccine inoculation," Presidents David O. McKay, Stephen L. Richards and J. Reuben Clark wrote in the Deseret News.
The CDC reports that 63.9% of Americans have received at least one vaccination shot and 54.8% are fully vaccinated.
The resurgence of COVID-19, fueled by the delta variant and the opening of the new school year, has produced a sense of whiplash after a summer where cases had fallen and many people had returned to much of their pre-pandemic practices.
A raft of polls over the past two weeks show that a majority of Americans support vaccination, including the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. That poll found that two-thirds of people under 30 and those 65 and older support vaccine mandates, compared with a little more than half of those in between.
A CDC study published last month shows that the vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfections.
Last month, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine as safe and reliable.
The full text of Wednesday's letter follows:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We are grateful that in recent months, some level of ordinance work has resumed in every temple. Our desire is to keep temples open.
As cases of COVID-19 increase in many areas, we want to do everything possible to allow temples to remain open. Therefore, effective immediately, all temple patrons and workers are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the temple. These safety protocols are temporary, based on COVID-19 conditions, and will be rescinded as soon as circumstances permit.
Our urging church members to be vaccinated and to protect themselves and others from the spread of disease has precedent. Prior First Presidencies shared similar messages in 1900 about smallpox and in 1957 regarding polio. Please do all you can to protect yourself and others so the work of the Lord on both sides of the veil can move forward.
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring