Mormon church leaders on Wednesday announced that masks will be required in its temples, after previously urging followers to wear masks and get vaccinated.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the mask mandate would be temporary in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, according to The Associated Press.
“As cases of COVID-19 increase in many areas, we want to do everything possible to allow temples to remain open,” the church said in a statement, according to AP. “Therefore, effective immediately, all temple patrons and workers are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the temple.”
Last month, the church strongly advised its members to wear masks and get vaccinated — but did not go as far as issuing a mandate.
“We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders,” the church said in a statement on Aug. 12, according to the AP.
Utah, where the church is based, saw a surge in COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated residents throughout the summer months. The rate of infection in the state has reportedly continued to climb even as vaccination rates slowly increase.
The Utah Health Department reported that in the span of 28 days, unvaccinated residents are 5.9 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than their vaccinated counterparts and 7.2 times more likely to be hospitalized compared to those who have gotten the shot, the AP noted.
State data shows that 64 percent of Utah residents over the age of 12 have been vaccinated against COVID-19, about the same rate as a poll of Latter-day Saints in August, which found 65% of respondents had received at least one vaccine dose.
About 495,704 coronavirus cases and 2,829 virus-related deaths have been reported in Utah since the start of the pandemic.