LDS Church President Russell Nelson, other top leaders test negative for COVID-19; apostle Gong recovering at home

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Top Latter-day Saint leaders, including church President Russell M. Nelson, seated in the middle on the front row, await for General Conference to start Oct. 3, 2020, from the Conference Center theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can breathe easier.

After apostle Gerrit W. Gong came down recently with COVID-19, worries arose that other top leaders, including 96-year-old President Russell M. Nelson, may have been infected.

That’s not the case.

“Out of an abundance of caution, all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were tested, and all tests were negative,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Thursday in a news release. “Church leaders will continue to exercise caution and follow all health guidelines related to COVID-19, and encourage our members to do the same.”

This announcement marked the first time the Utah-based faith has stated publicly that Nelson, who was a renowned heart surgeon before devoting himself to full-time church service, and other top-ranking leaders had been tested — and cleared. Many of these authorities are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, and would be deemed at high risk of complications if they contracted COVID-19.

The church also relayed good news Thursday about the 66-year-old Gong and his wife, Susan.

They are still experiencing “very mild symptoms” but are recovering at home, the release added. “They are grateful for the many prayers and expressions of concern and love.”

Gong, the first leader in the church’s upper echelons known to have contracted COVID-19, did not attend the past weekend’s all-virtual General Conference in person. Instead, he delivered a prerecorded talk Saturday, when it was revealed that he was “feeling well” after potentially being exposed to the virus.

The five sessions over two days were broadcast and streamed around the world from a theater in downtown Salt Lake City’s Conference Center, where Nelson and his two counselors in the governing First Presidency, along with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, heeded local health guidelines. They were physically distanced and wore masks.

Speakers removed their face coverings when they gave their sermons. The microphone and podium were not wiped down with disinfectant between talks.

On Tuesday, the church announced that Gong and his wife had tested positive.

Gong’s appointment as an apostle in 2018 was historic. He became the first Asian American to rise to that level of leadership in the 16.5 million-member global faith.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Gerrit W. Gong's General Conference sermon was prerecorded and played during the Saturday afternoon session Oct. 3, 2020.

In his sermon Saturday, Gong invited Latter-day Saints to “change the world for the better, from the inside out, one person, one family, one neighborhood at a time.”

In June, fellow apostle Jeffrey R. Holland was briefly hospitalized for an undisclosed, non-COVID-19 illness. Appearing fit, the 79-year-old apostle was on hand for the weekend conference, where he lamented a pandemic that “has gone on much, much too long.”

“COVID and cancer, doubt and dismay, financial trouble and family trials. When will these burdens be lifted?” Holland asked with a sigh. “The answer is by and by.”