Holmes County Forms Covid-19 “Defense Team”; Push Back Against “Amish-Blaming”

Do the Amish get an unfair share of finger-pointing for their collective or individual behavior as regards COVID-19? Holmes County officials have formed a “defense team” to address different COVID-related topics, some of them regarding PR. First, what’s the team all about?

Addressing statewide media queries, quarantine guidelines after exposure and updates for local status reports were among the many topics tackled Monday morning in the inaugural COVID Defense Team meeting.

Holmes County commissioners held the discussion via Zoom.

The new team is the result of a meeting with Gov. Mike DeWine, who encouraged county officials to reach out to community leaders to do everything within their power to keep the community open and be smart about it through the latest surge of coronavirus.

More than two dozen officials from the Holmes Health District, Emergency Management, school districts, Pomerene Hospital, Sheriff’s Office, fire and EMS, Job and Family Services, Chamber of Commerce and the Holmes County Home came together to share ideas and information.

On the Amish:

Chamber Director Tiffany Gerber said her office fields many calls from media outside of the area wanting the county to address the perceived role the Amish are playing in the spread of the virus.

“Some of the larger cities around us have sensationalized the messaging, focusing in on the Amish community,” she said.

“Media outside the area” and the comment on larger cities do not surprise me. The county health commissioner has a problem with what he describes as stigmatization:

Health Commissioner Michael Derr said he has worked with an Amish steering committee, and gave assurances the virus is not an Amish-English issue.

“I am really disappointed to see people play that stigma of our community,” Derr said. “They tend to gravitate toward that in their concerns and complaints. What we’ve got to remember is that Holmes County is not unique to this response. Everyone has seen an increase in cases. It is people who are not taking personal responsibility and trying to do the right things. If we all try to take care of each other, we can do some good impact at pushing this curve back down. It is shameful people want to point a finger and blame. The virus is the place to point the finger, not at each other.”

Over the past months I’ve seen a good share of comments and criticism of the Amish not following COVID protocols in different places. One recent such blog comment you readers did not see here – because it was automatically blocked due to the numerous expletives it contained.

It may be true that some in Amish communities do not follow whatever the local protocol might be to the degree non-Amish residents of local suburbs or cities and towns do. From what I can tell, there is a cultural divide as far as adherence to mask and other rules.

Like Commissioner Derr, I also don’t think it is so much an Amish-English thing, but may be more largely described as urban-rural or by some other pairing of “opposites”. So while it may very well be true that Amish people on the whole are more lax on adhering to COVID rules, I also think it’s true that – as with other issues – the Amish make a convenient place for people to direct their ire. The Amish don’t punch back. Though in this case, non-Amish are starting to punch back for them.

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    1. Heather K

      No Amish-blaming here

      I think you are absolutely right. It is a rural-urban issue rather than an Amish-English issue. I live in a rural area of Northeast Ohio. There are a mixture of people here who do wear a mask and don’t wear a mask. But when you go into the cities, everyone is wearing a mask. I will also add that although the governor targeted the Rogers Flea Market, I have seen Amish and English alike there all wearing masks. Honestly, many people who don’t wear masks are doing it more for political reasons.

      1. I think requirements that were more adaptive to the region rather than say state-wide would make more sense. Some countries in Europe, such as Poland and Ukraine, have implemented their restrictions on a regional basis, depending on the number of daily cases in a region (an imperfect measurement but probably better than a blanket policy based on one cumulative national figure).

        1. Michael B Caron

          Amish scapegoating

          It is obviously better to use a scalpel rather than a broadsword in fighting this pandemic. However, applying measures by district or zip codes is too often of limited value. Diners and bar patrons simply drive to the nearest zip that doesn’t have the restrictions, or in the case of more distant rural settings, people come flooding into the places where they have convinced themselves they can play without fear of infection. In Maine we are experiencing waves of tourists coming in to visit, or now to buy homes or property in an old white rural “safe” state, and properties near the Amish sells over asking price for cash within days of going on the market. Perceptions of safety are as warped here as in Ohio, only infected with slightly different warped realities. Maine is fast catching up with states like Ohio, With one in five Mainers being over 65 the virus will kill a much larger percentage of our population than Ohio’s before this is over. There is a need for scapegoats in the Buckeye state that doesn”t exist in my state yet. The whole nation is paying the price for those who believed the virus was a hoax and wearing masks was a socialist plot. A well defined religious group is so much more convenient to blame than the large minority of our citizenry who inhabit vast rural parts of America and never thought this virus would leap from poor urban neighborhoods into their own dooryard. Hold the Amish accountable when their behavior contributes to the spread, but to blame the adherents of that religion for what is happening in America right now is as bigoted as blaming the Jews for Germany’s many sufferings between the World Wars.

    2. C. J.

      Covid and the Amish

      Glad to hear that the “Englisher’s” are starting to defend the Amish, at least in some instances.
      On another subject:
      Can you tell me Erik, when there are accidents, cases of buggies being hit, people injured or killed, buggies destroyed and sometimes horses injured badly or killed… Is there any accountability where those at fault have to pay hospital bills, loss of wages, buggy & horse replacement costs?
      In other words, are the Amish ever compensated since they do not file charges? Just wondering ~
      Thank you for sharing these stories, & updates on Linda Stolzfoos and Jonathan Hochstetler.

      1. CJ, good question on a consequence of these accidents that doesn’t get nearly as much focus. So, I haven’t looked into how that is addressed so I’m not sure how that all shakes out. As far as monetary losses due to a destroyed buggy, killed horse, etc., as you know by custom the Amish do not sue, so a civil suit for damages is not something you’d expect to see. If the driver is at fault would the crash victim receive damages just as if it were a car-on-car accident? I don’t see why not, unless maybe there were something in the insurance policy excluding that. If there were large hospital bills, the Amish community would generally step in to help. But you’ve raised a good question and I’d also like to know how often the vehicle drivers who cause the accidents actually contribute (at least through insurance).

    3. Michael B Caron

      "Amish-Blaming" in the pandemic

      No reasonable person who has been outside their home or has any access to media in 2020 can seriously have failed to notice that there is a divide between those who are following the epidemiologissts and other scientific experts and those who eitherthink the pandemic is a political hoax. The Amish and a few others around the world hold religious beliefs that are not easy to reconcile with manditory social distancing, very limited gathering size, and mask wearing. Some Amish are also influenced by the same political notions that drive millions of “English” Americans to refuse mask wearing as infringement on their rights.
      I believe it is entirely reasonable for non-Amish to take extra precautions around Amish and their businesses. It is clear even those Amish who wear a mask while operating their business inevitably have many customers who do not. The tourist based businesses in particular attract English who are out “touring” in the first place because they do not take the pandemic seriously or are so stricken with “covid fatigue” they talk themselves into the foolish notion that rural white communities are “safe” places to visit. We have a lot of that stinkin’ thinkin’ here i rural Maine, where the out-of-staters flock seeking a “safe” playground, bringing the virus to this nation’s oldest population (one in 5 of us are over 65.
      Very few if any Amish stop interacting with fellow church members away from their businesses, and many attend large weddings, crowded inside religious services, gather together unmasked to sing, and other potential super spreader events. That is not based on any bias against one’s religious beliefs. It certainly does not justify any insinuation that the Amish are responsible for the recent rise in Ohio or national infection, hospitalization and soaring death rates from this virus. It does mean, however, that ignoring the evidence that Amish business environments and religious practices do increase the potential for contracting covid and infecting others who are in high risk categories.

    4. T.Ruth

      ? Amish ways

      I live in a 300+ Amish community(Swartentruber/old order). I ? them hunting out of season, not wearing orange etc. We also had a family leave their 10 yr. old in charge of 5 children, while they went out of state for 10 days(most english would never do this). We have had several buggy accidents the Swartentruber don’t use triangles,reflective tape or flashing lights on their buggies. Most of their lives are about religion/customs, not God. It’s been interesting visiting with them several times a week…

      1. 5 days

        That’s a long trip for a 10 year old to be watching 5 younger siblings. Few English people would do that. I think a lot of Amish people wouldn’t do that (from less plain churches). On the other hand, in a community of 300+ I would bet there were probably family members or community members nearby that would be available to the children.

    5. T.Ruth

      Amish Covid

      About 2 weeks ago. I was at the Swartentruber neighbors. They had what they called “Amish Covid”. They had all of the symptoms. I asked if they were going to be tested,not surprising they said no. unfortunately they/we will never know. I did start with cold symptoms after I left there. I went home and took extra fermented garlic for a few days. I didn’t get anything, it took weeks to go through their family…they have continued to have; church, weddings, and school, throughout this pandemic..

      1. I’m not sure what testing prices are for your locale but they probably see it as an unnecessary expense for what they’d likely judge to be a minor ailment in most cases.

        Particularly for a Swartzentruber household, which generally have significantly lower incomes. Multiply a $100 covid test x 12 members of a household and you might wipe out a tenth of the year’s cash income.

        1. Hre in WI. the tests are free and offered at several clinics, firehouses(several times a month ), and anytime at our hospitals. I would have driven them there…

          1. Gotcha. Well with free testing and a ride that would basically eliminate the cost objection.

            An anecdote from Lancaster County. This was late June, so over 4 months ago:


            The extent of the virus’ spread among the county’s 39,000 Amish residents is unclear, officials said. Amish families typically avoid using technology due to their faith, but have differing philosophies about modern medical care. Anecdotal evidence, though, indicates many Amish and Old Order Mennonites are not seeking testing for the coronavirus, said Edwin Hurston, the county’s COVID-19 public health emergency adviser.

            “We don’t know, because a lot of the Amish are not being tested,” he said. “They’re choosing not to be tested.”

            Health-care providers are seeing people of Amish or Old Order Mennonite denominations with COVID-19-like symptoms, but those people are declining tests to confirm the illness, Hurston said.

            And another from September, on why there is more anecdotal evidence than data on testing among the Amish:


            One of the many challenges with regards to gauging the impact of the coronavirus on the Amish is the lack of epidemiological data, and that’s because public health systems collect data on gender, race and ethnicity, but not religion.

            Yoder said for the most part they have had to rely on anecdotal evidence or first-hand experience.

            “We don’t have a good sense of knowing if they are accessing testing,” she said. “We know when they are in the hospital. But they haven’t been a population that we’ve had more hospitalizations for than anyone else. We know they are not going for tests but we don’t have any other data. We have information related to where cases might be by zip code, but we still can’t say if they are Amish. There are lots of others who live in those areas as well.”

    6. kerry

      I live here. I’ll be frank. While they are definitely not the only ones who are anti-mask here – there are many others – that community is driving the spread because they refuse to be tested and hide when they feel ill. They don’t want to lose their drivers and social activities by being honest. My Amish neighbor flat out told me this after their usual driver recently died of covid.

      The hospitals here are exploding with cases and full, currently about 70% of covid patients are Amish. The Holmes health dept and commissioners have refused to follow any protocol since the beginning because they are afraid or losing tourist dollars if the truth is out, but now they’re starting to lose control of the narrative. They only held and publicly reported on that meeting about “finger pointing” because they have been called out about ignoring measures and are looking bad.

      Truly I love my Amish neighbors and friends, I’ve lived here all my life. But they are driving the spread here so much that I’m appalled at their lack of care (especially for their drivers). This being said as a large wedding happens down the street while our hospitals are now struggling…

      1. I recently read an obituary of a driver for the Amish where it was mentioned that it was suspected the driver contracted it from his Amish passengers. Not confirmed of course. The obit was more matter of fact and not casting blame. If I were an older or higher-risk category driver, I would be particularly careful and at the least make sure my passengers were on the same page. That said it is hard to isolate from others, even if you are well-intentioned, just by the nature of the Amish community and how they interact on a daily basis.

      2. kerry

        Erik, while I obviously understand how their lifestyle affects things, as you mention, they are making ZERO attempts here to temporarily alter things to help mitigate spread. They are attending large weddings and holding large auctions while symptomatic, are shopping in the stores ill, etc. The county is panicking about the explosion of illness (the numbers are far worse than reported because of refusal of testing which is free in many places) and trying to hide things because of tourists.

        As a result, our hospitals are now at covid limits with mostly Amish patients, patients for all reasons are being shuttled elsewhere far away, and much non-covid care has been suspended or transferred for both Amish and Engish alike.

        That being said, they certainly are not the only ones. The many conservative Mennonite, Apostolic/ fundamentalists, and “rebels” here are definitely contributing. But by and large, the Amish population is the one that is filling our beds now. I see it every day at work.

        As well as I know them and understand their philosophy, I have still been shocked at their lack of care for this community *at large* and purposeful ignorance of what they can see exploding around us. If they were making even a passing attempt at cautionary measures, I might feel differently. But they are not.

        1. Anecdotal evidence that I posted in an above comment also suggests that Amish residents are not testing as much as non-Amish in Lancaster County.

          I believe there were some adjustments and restrictions made to church, weddings and funerals in the early weeks/months of the pandemic, but now 1) 8 months later with the decline in cases over the summer giving people a sense it was going away, 2) combined with “pandemic fatigue”, people may be in a period of downplaying the situation right now. Do you think that has anything to do with attitudes you are observing in Holmes Co. now?

      3. Jon Thorell

        Anabaptist Covid

        I have not seen a single Anabaptist wearing a mask in this part of Wisconsin since the pandemic started. Many folks are avoiding them at the bank, the hardware stores, auctions and other places because they are ignoring the safety recommendations.
        My wife is a nurse at our local hospital. She has noticed that over the last 4 months many people who drive the Amish have been stricken with Covid. A few have been hospitalized.
        I talked to one Amish man in June who told me his group had stopped all gatherings last spring for a while. Also, the local German Baptist church stopped their Sunday services for a period.
        However, I think over the summer all precautionary protocols have ceased amongst them.
        Now, has winter sets in, the virus is becoming very virulent and everyone should try to stop the spread.

        1. Interesting, Jon – can I ask what general area of Wisconsin? That’s not the first such account I’ve heard. I think you are right that some are probably still in a summer mindset as we move into fall and what appears to be the expected increased spread of the virus.

    7. Susie Koenig

      I went with a friend to Lancaster, PA this past weekend. Wherever we were ….Amish or not, folks were wearing masks …in the restaurants (unless eating), gift stores or farmer’s markets.

      1. Lancaster County adherence

        I think the people in that community who are working in the most public businesses like markets or tourist businesses are going to be pretty diligent about it. In Lancaster County there’s too much of a spotlight and the clientele is going to make loud noise if they are not adhering. Smaller communities and shops in less tourist-exposed areas, you’d be more likely to see people not adhering to whatever the local protocol is. That also might be different in Lancaster County shops which are heavily Amish-patronized and see few English customers.

    8. Menard Menard

      "defense team"

      “right is right no matter how many people are against it. wrong is wrong no matter how many people are for it.”

      – william penn

      how sacred is one persons life? only that person can decide. at that point forward they will take the positive actions to honor and respect their life.