The Amish & Coronavirus

Questions on the Amish & coronavirus – awareness, risk, and  protection from disease

With the coronavirus topic heavy in the media, I thought it might be worth addressing several questions regarding COVID-19 infection and the Amish.

Do the Amish know about coronavirus?

Reader Beverly posed this question yesterday. With all the recent hubbub over this public health issue, it might seem odd to think that anyone has not heard of it yet.

Yet the low-tech and less-connected Amish would be obvious candidates to know less about coronavirus, so I understand the question from Beverly.

I would guess that – as with so many things – this depends on the community, but that a decent number of Amish people do know about coronavirus, or would be starting to get the word now.

Side View Buggies Pa

A general guideline would be the plainer and more isolated the group, the less likely they would know about it (and likewise probably less likely at risk of contracting the virus).

That tends to be the case with all news topics. It might surprise some, but more than a few Amish people don’t know much about what’s going on in today’s politics or current events (lucky them?).

But to give one example, I was just in touch with a Lancaster County Amish friend yesterday, and he was well aware of the coronavirus situation.

He is a business owner – a market stand owner, to be precise – and so he has regular contact with non-Amish people from Pennsylvania and Maryland as customers.

In addition, several of his youth-age sons living at home have smartphones and are plugged-in that way. And of course, they receive news via the old-fashioned local newspaper, which more than a few Amish do.

So Amish in bigger, more progressive communities in particular, and those with regular business dealings with non-Amish people, are more likely to be up to speed on this topic.

Getting the word out: the public health approach

For that matter, I just came across an article out today in Lancaster Online about spreading awareness in the Plain community about this coronavirus situation (“Health officials working to provide Plain sect members with COVID-19 information“).

To get the word out, health officials have been mailing information packets to leaders of Amish churches (I assume bishops and maybe other ministers) with facts about the virus which causes COVID-19 infectious disease and how to take safety precautions.

I would think that the Amish grapevine is going to spread the word here quickly once word gets out – and also if people feel that this is something to be concerned about.

That last part would depend on their perception of the risk – and how well the information is conveyed (is this just something English should be concerned about, or do “our people” have actual exposure risk? Is there are a real danger, or is this akin to the common cold for most? – those types of questions).

I would suppose this would be of concern to Amish (especially the older age bracket) – particularly in a community like Lancaster County which has a lot of contact with non-Amish people, and with many of its members spending time in urban and suburban areas for their businesses (things like market stands and construction companies).

Busy Pa Dutch Market

More isolated communities logically have less to worry about.

Several Amish also commented to Lancaster Online on the coronavirus, giving a range of views:

LNP | LancasterOnline spoke with a few Amish men about the new coronavirus Wednesday in Leacock Township. None gave their last names.

Aaron said he and his family were making sure to sanitize as often as they could.

Sam said the coronavirus was a joke.

“It was created to make (President Donald) Trump look bad” and to prevent the president’s reelection in the fall, he said.

Josh said he wasn’t paying much attention to COVID-19 and wasn’t taking any extra safety precautions to prevent himself from being exposed to the virus.

I am not surprised by any of these responses.

Some are concerned – many Amish in general are interested and diligent about maintaining their health (except when they don’t see a reason for concern).

Some are unconcerned (see previous comment). And some even see nefarious forces at work (not sure how widespread this view might be, but we have at least one person considering it “a joke”).

Do the Amish have greater, lesser, or comparable coronavirus infection risk?

This is an interesting question. Steven Nolt comments on it in the article:

Amish families are exposed to fewer households — and potentially the coronavirus — than English families, since Amish children attend small schools with enrollments of 24 to 30, said Steve Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College, and senior scholar at the college’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

Additionally, older Amish adults don’t live in nursing homes or retirement centers, which is a concern for public health officials, Nolt said.

He also noted, however, something along the lines of what I said above – that those with businesses could have greater potential exposure.

I would also add to this that if an Amish person is exposed and brings the virus into his or her home and community, I would expect that there would be a good chance – and perhaps a greater chance – of the virus spreading within the community.

This is simply because of the large families and frequent interaction with people that takes place in the typical Amish household, “neighborhood” and church.

Amish Coronavirus

Although many non-Amish live in big cities where they are clustered together with others in subways, office buildings, and on the street, it’s quite possible to go through a typical day as an English person relatively isolated from other people.

English people have smaller families, cars, food delivery services, drive-through windows, online ordering, headphones and iPods, and other things that serve to limit our actual human interaction, if we want to.

Amish people gather together regularly for meals, for social events like baking pies and quilting, auctions, and of course church and school. In short, social interaction happens for the most part in person, not through a screen.

In any case this question is something to consider, and I think it could be argued both ways.

Do the Amish have special protection from coronavirus?

Another question that might occur: Are the Amish protected – genetically or otherwise – against the coronavirus?

I would be surprised if someone had any concrete answer to this. This is a relatively new virus that is just making its first (and hopefully final major) incursion into the human population.

That noted, Amish have shown greater resilience to some ailments and diseases compared to the non-Amish population.

Examples include asthma, cancer, diabetes and aging in general, and being overweight. In these cases, effects may be caused by genetic and/or lifestyle factors.

Amish have been shown to have some benefits due to their genes. It is a relatively closed population, which can have beneficial genetic effects as well as negative ones, as in cases of debilitating rare disease.

Amish Church Gathering

Hopefully this COVID-19 situation will be contained to the point that not enough people in the Amish community contract it so as to make a study feasible.

But if it does happen that Amish people are infected by coronavirus, it might be a worthwhile topic to investigate – especially considering the importance of developing a vaccine.

There may be potential useful information to be garnered from the atypical Amish population that could benefit others. But again, hopefully things don’t get that far.

Staying safe

In closing, I personally hope you reading this and your loved ones are able to stay well away from this virus.

The disease caused by the virus is not a death sentence – far from it – but it would be best to avoid it, to state the obvious (and especially for higher-risk people like the elderly and people with compromising medical conditions).

But I also hope that we all refrain from panic, and follow some common-sense precautions to prevent its spread.

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    28 Comments

    1. Well written, timely and insightful article, Erik. And for all the interesting studies and comparisons that could be made if there were to be an outbreak, my hopes and prayers are that it is a non-event for us all.

      Hope you stay healthy through the scare as well. I just bumped into my own doctor today at lunch, and his take was much like yours: Respect it for what it is, but don’t make it into what it’s not.

      1. To be honest Don I wasn’t sure I even wanted to cover this topic – I feel like I’ve had just about enough coronavirus coverage to last me a lifetime at this point.

        But after starting on a planned brief response to Beverly’s question I came across the Lancaster Online article from today and realized there might be some interesting and relevant questions to delve into as regards the Amish perspective.

        I like your doctor’s take on things. It’s good to take it seriously, but I think it would better for all to have less of the panic type headlines that I keep seeing in the media lately.

        1. Yeah, I get that — I reached my heard-enough mark long ago, too. But in the absence of a voice of reason and rationality, irrationality becomes king of the hill. Discussions on some Amish groups of facebook seem to confirm that. I appreciate you going the extra mile and setting a more reasonable perspective here.

    2. Jerry

      I'm my area....

      I was out and about Thursday and Friday this week. The Perry County,PA Amish has heard of the virus but are doing nothing different. The Perry County folks read newspapers and The Budget often.
      The Synder County OOM also know of the virus and had a couple colds in the local schools in early January.
      The Nebraska Order ladies in the Winfield, Union County,PA bulk store and bakery were unaware of the virus and said only a few colds were known in their area. Certainly all of these groups are out and about this mild winter much more than the non-Amish populations. All three location has had less than four inches of snow this year. It also appears that Spring will arrive early. Spring plowing has started on a small scale already.

      1. Denise

        Healthy enough...

        Adding my 2 cents. I studied the Amish Community several years ago (as a child) but grew to understand their diet even better this last year. Given their traditional way of treating ailments (along with their diet; aka broths, stocks, utilizing organ meats, etc.) they have little to fret over.

    3. Randy

      Calm Encouragement Needed

      Don and Eric,

      Your commentary above is like a breath of fresh air. I wholeheartedly concur with the view you espoused and that was expressed by Don’s MD.

      Our society has been so fortunate, in terms of the absence of an actual crisis, that it’s gotten to the point where many folks confuse what is largely an inconvenience with a crisis. I do not wish at all to make light of the plight of, and I am sorry that there are, families who must grieve for victims of the corona virus. Certainly caution and some strong preventative measures are appropriate, as is occurring. Although my gut tells me that there is some overreaction going on, I don’t really know where the line should be drawn — and therefore don’t really object to declarations of emergency and taking extraordinary precautions to prevent spreading a novel disease that is dangerous to some of us. However, I do strongly object to, and am highly disappointed by, the hoarding and other ridiculously panicky behavior we are witnessing — which would be inappropriate even if this was in fact a crisis.

      It’s been now almost 70 years since Americans had much to fear on the infectious disease front. (Yes, the early days of HIV were disconcerting for sure, but unlike the case with polio, it was only a relatively short time before the very limited transmission means were identified.) My mother was stricken in her early 20’s during the last polio epidemic in the 1950’s — just before the immunization breakthrough. With two toddlers at home with my father (who had just opened his own business), she spent months in an iron lung as a quadriplegic before fortunately (and mysteriously) recovering upper body function. But despite being a paraplegic the rest of her life, she went on to bear more children (including me) and lived as full a life as possible (including a lot of adventurous world travel). And even as a victim, she made sure that we were raised not to consider either the polio spread or the results of it as a crisis. She and my father (a decorated combat aviator) knew from their WWII experiences, and from what their parents — and the whole world — had encountered with both the so-called Spanish flu and WWI, just what a real crisis was.

      I anticipate that the Amish, resting on their faith and trusting that God makes no mistakes, will calmly pass through this time of heightened uncertainty. For those of us who believe that God’s gift of free will and choices also signals the presence of chance and the absence of divine control over everything (or many things) — and for others who believe differently than the Amish — I wish to encourage all to put the current situation into context historically, and to understand that selfish panic is destructive and that keeping calm benefits not only oneself but the community at large.

      1. Randy, thanks for your kind words. Glad to be a source of comfort.

        I father had a run in with polio as well, and both of my parents were raised during WWII so knew first hand about doing without. And the were raised by parent who survived the Great Depression, and no doubt learned even more from those who lived even harder times. So I know what you’re talking about.

        I would note that I totally agree with you about “God’s gift of free will,” but I don’t believe that makes anything beyond God’s divine control over everything. Sometime that involves backing out of the way and allowing us to have to deal with the consequences of our free choice — but even that is not beyond His ability to control in whatever way He might choose.

        As far as declarations of a state of emergency, well, the truth is I do not have before me all the facts nor the experts that those folks have. And it was seem a bit presumptuous for me to be making calls about the validity of their decisions when I don’t know what they know or have the resources they do. So, whether there is an emergency or not — I leave that call to others more qualified. But I know He who is greater than the pestilence that may come by night, and trust that He will either see me through or call me home — and the way I see it either way is a win.

      2. Great comment, Randy. I concur. Thanks for sharing it and your family’s story. As your comment shows, we are more fortunate living today than I’m afraid many realize.

    4. Jeffrey Adkisson

      I am from rural Southeast Iowa where a community of Amish has sprung up over the past 20 years. My father (83 years old, heart and respiratory issues) has been driving the local Amish for the past 8 years after he retired from driving 18 wheelers.

      His trips are commonly to other states (Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado) for funerals, weddings and family get togethers mostly on weekends. The groups are sometimes 16 in a passenger van, leaving at about 10 pm and driving all night (this gives workers their days to use and the night to sleep on the way). They stop at truck stops to eat.

      I have been trying to get my father to see the danger of this type of interstate travel for both himself and his large groups of passengers. Does anyone know why the Amish are not limiting their travels like other groups?

      1. I think probably because they either don’t know much about it, or if they do, don’t consider it much of a threat, or at least not to the degree that is suggested by the amount and tone of news coverage of it lately. If so, could they be correct?

        I’ve got to say, your 83 year-old father sounds tough as nails – driving from 10pm all through the night, and with heart and respiratory issues? Does he not sleep? I guess after a life on the road as a trucker, you can get used to that style of driving. I don’t think I could manage it! But even without coronavirus in the picture, it seems like there is enough danger in that sort of all-night driving program already. I would guess your father probably enjoys the company of the Amish, and I bet they appreciate him too. I hope he takes care of himself.

    5. L . Lee

      Wake up..... they are just like us

      They have plenty of the same risks. One room schools, church and trips to Wal Mart. Their hygiene practices are not like ours. Their knowledge of health is limited. Vaccinations are limited. They travel on Grayhound buses out of state. They winter in Florida in an Amish community. Carpenters travel with non Amish,daily. In Lancaster there is
      a nursing home for them also. It is naive to believe they are not at risk or would practice community distancing. Kids go to school while sick. Are their schools closing also.? Yesterday was a program in their school near me.There was ten cars there. People all crowded neck to neck inside one room. They use dentists and eye doctors that we use. Time for people to get real about this.

      1. This comment confused me. Are they “just like us” or not like us at all? Your mix of examples seems to suggest both.

      2. Where is the nursing home for Amish in Lancaster County?

        1. L Lee

          Fairmount.org ( weaverland conference and Pincrest Amish Community in Sarasota Fl….their winter vacation place
          This is run by old order Mennonites and other groups.Amish go there. In Florida some own or rent homes.

          1. L Lee

            Could not edit comments

            Sorry…..Fairmount is in Ephrata PA run by the Weaverland Mennonite Conference. There are Amish residents/ patients. Pinecraft is the FL winter home of the Amish. I have been to both.

            1. Thanks for the clarification. I was aware of some Amish residents in nursing-type homes, but have understood it to be pretty limited (the comment sounded like there was a place dedicated just to the Amish). Do you have an idea of how many Old Order Amish residents Fairmount might have?

              The Pinecraft community is a nice friendly place and a unique community. I was just able to visit for a second time in November.

              https://amishamerica.com/amish-community-florida/

        2. L Lee

          Clarifying

          They are like and unlike us.

    6. Dan

      Do you think the Amish will comply with closing their schools if they are ordered to by the state government?

      1. Amish objections to closing schools?

        Generally I don’t see that they would have a big objection. Historically, Amish have had conflict with government over control over schooling, but that was over forced busing to consolidated schools and about the environment, type and amount of education. The current Amish school status quo is not under threat due to a temporary public health-related closure.

        Also some Amish families will no doubt appreciate having the children around to help around the farm and home (and some children will prefer that, though like with English children there are some that really enjoy school as well). Though if it means they have to make up the school days during an otherwise “busy time” later in the year there might be some grumbling, but that’s hard to tell at the outset given we don’t know how long any school cancellations might last at this point.

    7. Harlie

      Door to door sales

      My boyfriend has a job selling aerial photography and our biggest clientele are the plain community. The job is door to door sales and we are worried that with all the coronavirus stuff going on that they would be uncomfortable with someone coming out to their house that isn’t part of the community. We don’t want them to feel uncomfortable and potentially loose a client, we are selling in the Ephrata area and there are cases of coronavirus close by. We are just wondering if it’s worth still going out? Other sales reps in the company my boyfriend works for have had people be unwilling to open the door but they were English. Do you think the Amish will respond the same way?

      1. Well, you might want to read this article from yesterday on how Amish are responding to coronavirus in Lancaster County – I think it gives a good sense of Amish attitudes towards the situation right now: ydr.com/story/news/2020/03/18/pa-coronavirus-how-amish-community-responding/2864752001/

        I sold books door-to-door in Amish communities in the mid-2000s. While we never had a coronavirus-like situation, I remember at least once or twice going to homes where there was at least one person afflicted with whooping cough.

    8. R. Hamilton

      It seems to me that the minimum sensible precaution would be to assist and interact with the elderly and others at high risk, in a manner that as much as possible gives them a safe distancing, at least for the next three to eight weeks. And of course increased frequency of hand washing, like after every contact with another person or with surfaces routinely touched by multiple persons.

      There should be ways to adapt prudent precautions to operate within community customs; perhaps even ways in which community customs could encourage such precautions.

      It’s not a question of fear, but simply that reasonable precautions should make a better outcome likely. An effective businessman is better able to support his family and assist those in need, than one who is ineffective. This is just another form of trying to be effective.

    9. Lois Douglas

      Health care workers need help

      For years I have had many Amish friends, including Swartzentruber in the Kidron, Apple Creek area of Ohio. Although they knew a little about the Corona Virus, the information was limited so I have printed a lot of articles for them. One of the articles was about the shortage of face masks for doctors and nurses. They were very eager to help so I found a website that had instructions for making the masks. In the hope of being able to connect to other Amish communities around the country I started searching the internet and found this site. What a wonderful surprise!
      If anyone out there is interested in helping our health care workers by making masks, please contact your area medical facility or National Nurses United.org.
      The Corona virus is very bad in some areas but based on the information, will be much more widespread that most people now believe. I have been following this virus since China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Italy. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the three most critical things are #1 testing #2 testing #3 testing. That is the problem. We are still not doing enough testing. Even health care workers who have been exposed to infected people cannot get a test. Another problem with not enough testing is that there are people who have the virus but no symptoms but still infect others; they are known as “super spreaders” Others can have and spread the virus for days before they have symptoms. As of today we have 14,000+ confirmed cases in the US with big concentrations in Washington State, New York and California. Some hospitals are at full capacity already and many others will be soon. We should have been doing widespread testing for weeks and still we are not. It really shook me when I saw a plea from a nurse about not having enough masks and have to improvise with kerchiefs, etc. They need our help. I will be supplying material and elastic to my Amish friends and plan to contact fabric suppliers in the hope that they might help. Sorry this comment is long; shortened as much as possible without excluding important information.

    10. Ronald Friesen

      Amiss taxi

      What should the Amish taxi drivers be doing during this time? How do we determine which is the necessary driving March 29 2020 need 2020 vision at this time Ronald

    11. MOT

      Replying to Ronald's question, what should Amish taxi drivers do...

      Ronald that choice is up to each individual driver. The answer depends on many factors. One of which is the drivers age and health. Covid 19 has not been kind to us older (55 and up) seniors citizens. Over 50% of the virus patients in the hospital are over 55 years old. The majority of folks who die from Covid 19 are over 55 years old. Those odds increase greatly if the older person has asthma, diabetes, heart problems and other major health concerns. Of course some are in such a way financially that makes it impossible to stay home. However, before April’s end – MOST (including Amish) will be getting $1,200 from the Federal Gov’t. This should be a help to those that need it most.

      I would encourage you to make it a matter of prayer. Ask Jesus for guidance. He won’t answer you in words you’ll hear – but he will answer you and you will know what to do. Talk to your minister. It’s hard to believe Easter is next Sunday and most churches will be empty. But, we don’t need a building to have faith do we? I’ll pray for you and I would appreciate your prayers too :-). Have faith above all else.

    12. Jody Alligood

      The Amish are healthier than the English due to lifestyle!!!

      The Amish do not vaccinate. English newborns leave the hospital with 6 vaccines! Imagine that. Autism is unheard of in the Amish communities because the profitable big pharma vaccine schedule does not impact them. The Amish do not eat processed food, thus the low rates of diabetes in the Amish community. The Amish do not use Monsanto/Bayer genetically engineered seeds or spray their crops with the poison round up spray. Thus the low rates of cancer in the Amish community. The Amish depend on family and community not Prozac like the English. Thus unheard of suicide and drug /alcohol related problems like the English. The Amish have an 8th grade education but seem to manage feats that a engineering, architectural degree would encompass. A college degree does not equal the education, wisdom and integrity that the Amish demonstrate. Any other questions?

      1. Jody Alligood

        Addendum to the above. The Amish do not have agricultural degrees and are the most industrious and brightest of all farmers. Due to these low risk factors , especially the non usage of round up , and other household chemicals the English routinely use ,the Amish will not be affected by the virus like the English. Studies prove that areas where roundup usage is commonplace suffer the most from the covid 19. This is not rocket science. Too bad our Congress, American Medical association is not Amish educated.

    13. MOT

      Jody needs to know her assumptions are sometimes incorrect.

      Jody, My dear friend, you are so wrong about so much… Please investigate more, learn more and communicate less. First off, you like many others are putting the Amish on a pedestal. The Amish don’t like or desire this unwarranted attention, respect their wishes. Also know, that you assume too much. Many of the Amish use the same chemicals as the English, including Round Up and others. As far as COVID 19 being most prevalent where Round-Up is used, where did you hear that? That’s urban legend! Most Covid-19 deaths occured in Nursing Homes & Hospitals. Round-up is NOT used in either place… In fact, as of May 18th. in Lancaster County, PA. All deaths occured in folks over 50 (4) the rest over 60 (230) and 90% died in Nursing Homes or Hospitals. Also know that some of the Amish were infected too.

      I’ve been harassing my friend and neighbor Abner to give up his daily Tasty Cake habit at his lunch meal (processed food). Many young Amish mothers feed their children processed food too. None of this makes them evil – IT MAKES THEM HUMAN! The Amish also have their fair share of health woes. They just chose to keep their problems private, just like the English, that’s what the HIPPA Act is all about isn’t it?

      The Amish have some wonderful ways, they also have their faults. We all do, we all sin, we all fall short. Criticizing others to lift oneself up is an unstable foundation to stand on. It’s good to recognize the Amish for being the hardworking god fearing people they are. It’s also good to recognize they are human, just like you and I.