Provo MTC drops COVID-19 vaccination, testing; masks now optional

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay attention as Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks on the Missionary Coaching Heart in Provo on Aug. 24, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret Information)

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PROVO — New Latter-day Saint missionaries now not want a COVID-19 vaccination or have a unfavorable COVID-19 take a look at to enter the Missionary Coaching Heart in Provo, Utah, in accordance with a letter despatched by e-mail from the MTC to missionaries.

Masks are elective, too, in accordance with the e-mail.

“You’ll now decide for your self whether or not to make use of a facemask in all settings on the Provo MTC based mostly by yourself particular person circumstances,” the letter mentioned. “We encourage all to increase love and respect to others and their choices.”

The adjustments had been confirmed by church spokesman Sam Penrod.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has operated Missionary Coaching Facilities all through the world since final summer time, sustaining strict COVID-19 necessities,” Penrod mentioned in an announcement offered Tuesday to the Deseret Information. “Following the current steerage of native well being departments and authorities officers, church leaders have diminished a few of these necessities at varied coaching facilities, corresponding to permitting masks to be elective, eliminating testing earlier than arrival and inspiring however not requiring vaccination for missionaries who’re coaching in individual.”

In April 2021, the church included the COVID-19 vaccination among the many required immunizations for all missionaries. Since then, those that decline vaccination are assigned to serve inside their house nation.

“Up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination continues to be required for all missionaries to serve in assignments outdoors of their house international locations,” Penrod mentioned Tuesday.

Missionaries coaching on the Provo MTC will proceed to be required to put on masks when attending the Provo Utah Temple, the letter to missionaries mentioned. Masks stay required in all temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After missionaries go away the MTC for his or her assignments around the globe, they are going to be required to observe their mission’s masks tips.

“Please do not forget that these adjustments apply to MTC coaching solely,” the letter mentioned. “You should still be required to put on masks, be examined, and/or be vaccinated relying on journey necessities or necessities to your assigned mission.”

The rules had been up to date because the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention relaxed masks tips for almost all of the nation, together with Utah County, the place Provo is the county seat. The Utah Legislature ended a statewide masks mandate practically a 12 months in the past.

The replace comes two months after the Omicron variant prompted a COVID-19 outbreak on the Provo MTC. Over 15% of the MTC’s trainees examined optimistic in late December. Most skilled no or gentle signs. That very same week, Omicron-driven circumstances rose 60% nationally. Circumstances have subsided since then.

The up to date tips apply solely to the Provo MTC. As Penrod indicated, adjustments might be instituted on the church’s 9 different MTCs “as COVID circumstances and native authorities restrictions enable,” the e-mail mentioned.

The up to date tips enable each vaccinated and unvaccinated missionaries to attend on-site coaching on the Provo MTC. All missionaries who started or will start the at-home portion of their coaching on Feb. 21 or later ought to plan to reach on the MTC starting on March 30 to finish their coaching, the letter mentioned.

A missionary participates in the training for two missions and the MTC in Bogotá, Colombia, on Nov. 17, 2021.
A missionary participates within the coaching for 2 missions and the MTC in Bogotá, Colombia, on Nov. 17, 2021. (Picture: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Some missionaries should still require a COVID-19 take a look at previous to arrival on the Provo MTC whether it is required for airline journey to the MTC. Testing is also required if a missionary has chilly or flu-like signs within the days earlier than coming into the MTC, the letter mentioned.

Totally vaccinated missionaries with callings to serve in English started to return to the Provo MTC on June 23, ending a 14-month hiatus. The church had closed all 10 MTCs as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Through the 14 months the MTCs had been closed, missionaries had educated solely on-line from house.

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CDC says masks are optional in places where hospitals are not under strain : Shots

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Name, Inc. through Getty Photos

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Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Name, Inc. through Getty Photos

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Name, Inc. through Getty Photos

The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention introduced Friday it’s stress-free its masks steering for communities the place hospitals aren’t beneath excessive pressure. Beneath the brand new steering, practically 70% of the U.S. inhabitants lives in an space thought-about to be low or medium threat, and residents there are suggested they will go indoors with out masks.

The CDC recommends continued masks use in communities the place severe circumstances of COVID-19 are straining the well being system.

The transfer to ease up on masking, federal officers say, displays present situations at this part of the coronavirus pandemic, together with widespread immunity by vaccination and prior an infection in addition to higher entry to testing and coverings.

“We need to give folks a break from issues like mask-wearing,” stated CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a information briefing Friday. However, she added, new threat tips that the company is implementing will assist folks know when to succeed in for masks once more if situations warrant it.

Well being officers emphasised that individuals ought to nonetheless put on face coverings if they want or if they’re personally at excessive threat. And no matter native situations, they need to masks if they’ve COVID-19 signs or a optimistic take a look at or have been uncovered to somebody with COVID-19.

As a part of the change, the CDC is dropping its suggestion for common faculty masking and as a substitute will advocate masking solely in communities at a excessive degree of threat.

The company’s new tips for assessing group threat, launched Friday, weigh hospitalizations for COVID-19 and the proportion of beds occupied by COVID-19 sufferers in native hospitals extra closely than charges of recent infections alone.

“Because the virus continues to flow into in our communities, we should focus our metrics past simply circumstances in the neighborhood and direct our efforts towards defending folks at excessive threat for extreme sickness and stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our well being care system,” stated Walensky.

The company has modified course on masking a number of instances throughout the pandemic. In Might of final 12 months, it introduced steering that absolutely vaccinated folks may safely cease sporting masks indoors, solely to reverse that recommendation two months later because the delta variant of the coronavirus surged and breakthrough circumstances rose.

At that time, the CDC stated masking indoors was suggested in elements of the U.S. with “substantial” or “excessive” unfold of the virus, which it outlined as 50 to 100, or 100 or extra, respectively, new weekly circumstances per 100,000 folks.

Although circumstances are quickly declining within the nation, at present round 95% of counties are nonetheless seeing these “substantial” or “excessive” ranges of unfold, based on the CDC’s older threat metrics, which had been primarily based totally on new circumstances.

Beneath the CDC’s new threat metrics, an space is deemed “excessive” threat if it has regarding ranges of COVID-19 hospital admissions and hospital capability taken up by COVID-19 sufferers.

About 38% of U.S. counties are on this new high-risk class, the place mask-wearing is really useful, however these counties account for under 28% of the inhabitants.

The CDC will launch county-by-county threat ranges weekly on its web site, officers stated.

Many public well being consultants say the shift in steering is sensible within the context of declining case charges and the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I believe we’re transferring to a realistic technique, one which acknowledges that those that need to shield themselves have each instrument obtainable,” says Dr. Ali Khan, a former CDC official and now a dean on the College of Nebraska: “There are free vaccines, free masks, free checks and free antivirals.” Khan says it is now as much as communities and people to find out what actions to take to guard themselves and people round them.

It is sensible for the CDC to place in place shared metrics for understanding threat, says Khan, “after which regionally [for communities] to make choices to loosen up masks tips primarily based on what the native situations are: how effectively individuals are vaccinated, how many individuals are going to hospitals, what kind of absenteeism ranges you’ve got [among hospital staff].”

Dr. Georges Benjamin, government director of the American Public Well being Affiliation, says the brand new threat ranges give folks a manner to consider the pandemic as we go ahead. “I believe it is a good street map,” he says. “It offers us a manner of transferring up or down the spectrum primarily based on what may change sooner or later, and most of us do assume that we’re nonetheless going to have recurring outbreaks of this illness in the neighborhood.”

Alternatively, the brand new threat metrics, which now embrace a mix of case ranges, hospitalizations and hospital capability, will not be simple to grasp, notes Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins College.

“I am all the time a bit involved when steering will get extra difficult relatively than less complicated,” he says. “I perceive the will to include each circumstances and hospital admissions and perhaps even staffed hospital beds. However making an attempt to give you a formulation like this dangers making it troublesome for folks to really implement this steering in a real-time style.”

He says maybe the emphasis may have been merely on new hospital admissions, which he calls “a really close to real-time indicator of when extreme circumstances are beginning to rise once more.”

Nonetheless, he says, it is a cheap time within the pandemic to be stepping down precautions like mask-wearing.

Will Stone contributed to this report.