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Vaccinations & reported COVID cases remain low in Ohio's Amish country

 Horse and buggy in Holmes County, OH. [Matthew Rand /  ]
Horse and buggy in Holmes County, OH.

Holmes County in northeastern Ohio has the worst vaccination rate in the state — just 17% — and yet, the county has the state’s lowest rate of COVID spread.

For Holmes County’s roughly 23,000 Amish citizens — nearly half the county — COVID-19 is a fact of life.

“People are still getting [COVID-19]. There are still a few people. We had a death, two deaths this last week,” said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Holmes County.

Despite the loss of life, Yoder said people here are moving on.

“Yes, COVID is here, we're going to take precautions, we're going to be careful,” he said, “but we need to keep living with our worldview, which is our historic faith, our families and our community. And if we move away from that, we've let something conquer us.”

But conquering COVID-19 might seem out of reach for Holmes County Health Commissioner Mike Derr. He said they've had to temper their vaccination goals.

“I mean, at first it was to get to 15%. Now, you know, we're closer to 17 and a quarter percent. So you know, we're, we're inching away at it,” Derr said.

Curiously, according to state data, Holmes County has the lowest per capita rate of COVID in the state – 314 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s well below the statewide average.

Derr does not trust the numbers. He suspects a lot of cases are undiagnosed.

“You know, you go to the hospital, you do a PCR test, and then, oh, I just assume everybody else that's in my household, if they have any symptoms that they're sick to, and we'll just do the right thing, stay home and kind of follow that,” Derr said.

While Holmes County’s case rate is lower than the state average, its hospitalization rate is slightly above the state average, and its death rate is well above the state’s average.

A horse and buggy rides through Mount Hope, OH. [Matthew Rand]

Paul Troyer, 75, said his son-in-law was hospitalized with COVID back in February, but that episode didn't convince Troyer to get the shot.

“Well, I don't think it helps all that much. But I hear some people get it, and they still get the COVID,” Troyer said.

Lori Troyer, 26, said she feels the vaccines are just too new to be trusted.

“We trust God and then just try to keep on using our vitamins, things like that,” Lori Troyer said.

The vaccines have proven safe and effective at keeping people from developing severe cases of COVID.

Despite the vaccine hesitancy, The Amish Heritage center’s Yoder said it would be a mistake to assume Amish people are averse to modern medicine.

“Maybe it's just more of an idea that ‘Look, we've all had it. The reality is, it's here. We've all had it. And so what's the point?’” Yoder said.

But for those who can get the shot, Derr said it's not too late.

“You know, there's certain things that we can agree to disagree about. But we also know that COVID vaccines have saved countless lives. They're very safe, they're effective.”

Copyright 2021 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.