Fact check: Amish communities have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic

The claim: Amish communities are unaffected by COVID-19

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, online skeptics questioned health officials’ attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19. In recent months, social media users are using the Amish, a population known for its resistance to modern technology, to falsely claim the threat posed by the virus is not real.

One meme is using an altered photo to claim Amish people are unaffected by the virus because they don’t own televisions.

“Why isn’t COVID affecting you people?” reads a dialogue bubble above a woman wearing a mask.

“We don’t have TV,” states the bubble above a man with a long beard and straw hat.

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There are many experiences to be had in Amish Country, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Families can take part in tours, museums and even buggy rides.

Versions of this meme have appeared on social media since late 2020, however, misconceptions about COVID-19’s impact on the Amish community have spread for months.

Fact checkers debunked similar claims that COVID-19 spared Amish communities in September.

“6 months later and the Amish are all still alive and Covid free. Their cure = No TV!” reads a post that circulated widely in September.

Both versions of this claim are false. COVID-19 has affected Amish communities like any other population in America, regardless of the fact that Amish people don’t typically own televisions.

USA TODAY contacted several social media users that posted the claim and has yet to receive a response.

Image in viral meme is altered

The image in the first meme is misleading because it is altered to appear as though it was taken since the pandemic began. The original image was posted to travel website Viator in April 2009 by user Angela S. In the photo, the woman is not wearing a mask.

The photo was captioned “A nice talk with Amish people” and posted with reviews for a listing for a Philadelphia and Amish Country Day Trip tour.

The tour brings visitors to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is home to a large Amish community.

In this April 15, 2011, file photo, an Amish farmer plows a field near New Holland, Pennsylvania.

COVID-19 is affecting the Amish

Aside from the doctored image, it’s inaccurate to say that Amish communities haven’t been affected by COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied an outbreak in a rural Ohio Amish community in May. The outbreak prompted a CDC study, which concluded that the virus had spread at social gatherings where social distancing and mask-wearing practices were not followed due to community hesitancy.

An Amish woman walks with a child in a wagon past the cornfields of Burton Township, Ohio, the state with the largest Amish population in the U.S.

In August, the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported on the spread of COVID-19 among Amish populations in Nappanee County, Indiana.

The IndyStar reported that data on COVID-19 among the Amish is inconclusive since public health departments typically don’t gather COVID-19 demographic data broken down by religious group and because many Amish people have resisted testing.

Some Amish people in Indiana and Lancaster, Pennsylvania don’t seek medical care for COVID-19 symptoms because they preferred at-home care where they could receive visitors. Steven Nolt, a senior scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, said some Amish people who died from COVID-19 died at home.

An Amish buggy.

In June, Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, Lancaster County coroner, said six members of the Old Order Amish died from COVID-19-related illnesses over just a few weeks.

The Repository, also part of the USA TODAY Network, reported that Amish communities are more likely to engage in forms of alternative medicine than other religious groups. They also rely on spiritual healing and prayer, according to The Repository.

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Some Amish people who contracted COVID-19 sought medical attention and recovered, the IndyStar reported

Other cultural factors like multigenerational homes and communal living could have increased the likelihood that COVID-19 spread among Amish communities.

Two young Amish men head home with a load of ice that was harvested from a nearby pond in the town of Lyons, New York.

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Lisa Orn, a family medicine doctor from Nappanee County, Indiana said that COVID-related misinformation and cultural distrust of government may have contributed to transmission of the disease in the Amish community.

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Amish learn public health information through other mediums

Although rules vary between Amish communities, owning electronics like televisions, radios and computers is typically forbidden for Amish life.

This cultural aversion to technology poses a dilemma for health officials trying to reach Amish communities. To mitigate this communication barrier Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health partnered with Amish communities to convey medical guidance and minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Amish communities.

An Amish farmer in Narvon, Pennsylvania, plows his field with a team of horses.

The CDC noted that bishops and other community leaders have helped public health officials communicate updated health guidance to Amish communities.

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that Amish communities have been unaffected by COVID-19 because they don’t own televisions FALSE because it is not supported by our research. There have been many cases of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities among Amish people. Coronavirus rates in Amish communities are difficult to ascertain because Amish people sometimes don’t seek medical care or get tested and many public health entities don’t track information on religious demographics as part of testing data.

Our fact-check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Aug. 15, 2014, “The Amish: 10 things you might not know”
  • Cassandra Dalton, Feb. 7, Facebook post
  • Fanton Language Club, Dec. 1, 2020, VK post
  • Check Your Fact, Sept. 23, 2020, “FACT CHECK: VIRAL POST CLAIMS THE AMISH HAVE REMAINED ‘COVID FREE’ DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC”
  • Lisa KF, Sept. 28, 2020, Facebook post
  • Viator, accessed Feb. 10, Philadelphia and Amish Country Day Trip from New York City”
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 13, 2020, “COVID-19 Outbreak in an Amish Community — Ohio, May 2020”
  • IndyStar, Aug. 21, 2020, “Some Amish practices could contribute to spread of COVID-19 among the community”
  • Lancaster Online, June 12, 2020, “COVID-19 case increase at WellSpan Ephrata could mean spread among Plain population”
  • The Repository, Jan. 10, “The Amish and COVID-19: It’s complicated”
  • Penn Medicine News, Sept. 1, 2020, “How Amish Communities are Staying Safer from the COVID-19 Pandemic with Help from Good Neighbors at Lancaster General Health”

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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