The COVID-19 pandemic has taken over the world. Almost everyone has been affected by the virus either directly, or indirectly. Social media has been flooded with social distancing reminders and masks have been integrated into everyone’s wardrobe. For many, it is hard to remember what life was like before COVID-19; however, this is not the case for the Amish. The Amish population of Lancaster, Pennsylvania live their lives without technology. They do not have phones, cars, or televisions, and consequently do not have the same access to COVID-19 information that everyone else does. With my life turned upside-down, I was interested to find out how the Amish have reacted to the pandemic. Considering their culture and separation from contemporary society, how do the values and beliefs of the Amish population affect their response to the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to contemporary society?
The Amish community is strongly rooted in their religious values, resisting technologies of the modern world. As contemporary society evolves, they find new ways of adapting (Hostetler, 1993, p. 10). Although there are several Amish communities in the United States, I studied Lancaster County’s population in Pennsylvania. In Lancaster, the Amish live among contemporary society. Horse and buggies share the road with motor vehicles, one is just slightly faster. Within Lancaster there is a place called Kitchen Kettle Village. Here shops are owned and run by the Amish, and contemporary society. Customers from both communities visit the shops in search for antiques, trinkets, and homemade treats.
Given our cultural differences, the Amish have a very different healthcare system. Other than times of emergency, this population sticks to traditional homemade remedies to treat their ill (Lemon, 2002, p. 74). In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, a case study done in 2002 observed the effect of the Rubella outbreak on a Tennessee Amish community. This community does not take vaccinations which led to a rampant outbreak seventeen years after the disease struck the rest of the world (Briss et al. 1992, p. 956). The outbreak did not have a significant impact on the population; however, their tight knit community did not protect them from becoming infected (Briss et al. 1992, p. 957). Will their reaction be similar to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Observational Data and Analysis:
To conduct my research, I visited Kitchen Kettle Village with the intentions of getting a general understanding of the daily life of the population. This village is often visited by members of the Amish community, and certain stores are run by them too. Throughout my first observation, I took note of how they were responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. I noticed that the majority of Amish visitors were not wearing masks. However, the non-Amish visitors were almost all wearing masks. When walking past others, the Amish made little effort to distance themselves. To be fair the masked visitors did not actively avoid others either. When customers entered stores there was a big difference between how they opened the door. The non-Amish customers used hand-free tools, pulled their sleeves over their hands, and I even saw someone open a door with their foot. I did not see this same effort initiated by Amish customers; instead they went right up and opened the door normally.
On my second trip to Kitchen Kettle Village, I completely immersed myself in the village. I started out in one store that was filled with rustic decorations: pillows, measuring cups, signs, holiday caricatures, and more. There were very few precautions to social distancing and cleanliness inside the store. People were packed into tight lines and spaces, and a few did not follow the mask rule. The only other precaution I could see was a hand sanitizing station at every door. Almost everywhere I went I saw large groups of Amish teenagers gathered together without masks. There were even a fair number of older adults gathered without masks on. To gain perspective, I decided to interview a nineteen-year old Amish boy. He did not seem very open to talking at first, however he did answer my questions. He does not wear a mask and does not even carry one on him. He told me “I react to the pandemic like I react to modern technology… I adapt to live with it, but it does not take over my life.”
Unrelated to COVID-19, I saw many differences between the cultures of the two populations. In the parking lot there were both buggies and cars. The horses were tied up over a water bucket and the cars were parked right beside them. It’s interesting to see such different cultures coexist with one another. For residents of Lancaster this interaction is just a part of everyday life. The Amish wore their dresses and their slacks as usual and the non-Amish were dressed for fall. No one questioned each other, except for tourists of course. I saw one curious young girl whisper to her mom, pointing to a group of young Amish girls. I feel like strangers staring and pointing is pretty common for Amish people. I doubt they thinkuch of it anymore. Another interesting observation occurred at a stop light. An Amish woman waited for her walking signal at the traffic light to cross the street. Although this seems so simple to contemporary society, it is interesting to see how the Amishave adapted to unavoidable technology. Does this adaptation stretch to COVID-19? In the village stores Amish workers wore masks; however, the majority did not keep their masks over their mouth and nose. It seems they wear the mask to abide by our guidelines only when they have no other option.
Throughout the duration of my observations, I felt like the odd one out. I walked around with my mask on, and kept my distance from people. Unlike my hometown, this was not common behavior. I received many stares and looks of curiosity. It was apparent to me that my way of responding to the pandemic would shock many members of this population. They are not concerned about a cure, school being cancelled, or missing out on time with their friends. From their point of view, there is no need to be.
After conducting my research, I have determined that the COVID-19 pandemic has not significantly affected the Amish population. They are not receiving the same volume of information the rest of the world has and many members of their society do not even carry a mask with them. COVID-19 has been another contemporary society problem that they have adapted to as necessary. To the outside world, their response is surprising; however, when the perspectives shifted we could be overreacting.
Briss P.A., Fehrs L.J., Hutcheson R.H., Schaffner W. (1992, October 31). Rubella among the Amish: resurgent disease in a highly susceptible community. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 11(11), 955-959 https://europepmc.org/article/med/1454439.
Hostetler J. (1993). Amish Society. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lemon B. (2002). Amish health care beliefs and practices in an obstetrical setting. Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health, 8(3), 72-77. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/220302907?pqorigsite=gscholar&fromopenview=tr
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