Throng Welcomes Missionaries at Airport, Angering Officials

Hundreds gathered to meet family members returning because of pandemic
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2020 7:00 PM CDT
Airport, Utah Officials Criticize Welcome-Home Throng
Chase Steuer is mobbed by family members Sunday as he arrives back in Salt Lake City.   (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Hundreds of people gathered in an airport parking garage on Sunday to welcome 1,500 missionaries home from the Philippines, often with hugs. Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake International Airport and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have asked that they not do it again. The coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines is the reason the missionaries are returning now, WSTU reports. "This is irresponsible," Romney wrote. Herbert called the gathering dangerous, and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said that the homecoming was unacceptable and that "we must do better to save lives." An airport spokeswoman said: "I certainly understand that everyone's excited to see their loved one and to greet them and to welcome them home. But you know we’re in a different world right now with the pandemic."

The big welcomes are a tradition at the airport. More missionaries are due back soon, and families have been told to alter the tradition for now, per the AP. The church posted guidelines saying all returning missionaries should isolate for 14 days, whether they've been self-isolating or not. "Parents or guardians should go to the airport alone," the statement says. The airport had asked that only one or two people meet each missionary Sunday, though the spokeswoman said many people ignored the request. The people in the garage were standing close together, despite the social distancing mandate. A church spokesman said it had asked families to take one car to the airport and stay in it. That didn't happen, either. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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