With a fifth of its residents made up of Amish and Mennonites, Todd County boasts the largest population of these religious groups in the state of Kentucky.

This large population has attracted the attention of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who during one of his regular updates on Sunday night, mentioned the efforts of Todd County Health Department Director Jen Harris in helping spread the word about the coronavirus to the county’s Amish and Mennonite citizens.

“She has effectively communicated the type of restrictions and social distancing that is needed, and what we have seen is a big buy-in, at least from her with that community,” the governor noted during the live Facebook broadcast.

In the comments about Harris that lasted less than a minute, Beshear observed that Harris reached out to the Amish and Mennonites all on her own, “just seeing the challenge we face and doing the right thing,” he said in the broadcast.

Harris said she’d heard a reporter ask the governor on Saturday night how the coronavirus outbreak was being handled in Amish and Mennonite communities.

Beshear responded that he didn’t know but would get back with the reporter.

Upon hearing his words, Harris sent an email to Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and to Kelly Alexander, chief of staff for the department, explaining her actions with local Amish populations.

On Friday, the day before the reporter’s question, staff at the health department delivered letters about the coronavirus to Amish and Mennonite businesses in the county, thinking that would be the easiest way to touch base.

The health department is posting information on Facebook and is preparing a mass mailing that likely will go out next week to all households in Todd County.

But Harris thought of church services on Sunday in the Amish and Mennonite communities, and she wanted to make sure they knew about social distancing.

“We just wanted to make sure they had the same information as everyone else,” said the director, whose department maintains an ongoing relationship with the communities through its vaccination efforts with the Amish and Mennonites and inspections of some of their schools and food establishments.

The department also does inspections for houses the communities build.

Harris said she doesn’t know if the Amish and Mennonites met for church services Sunday or how they responded to the hand-delivered letters, but she said there was just a feeling of a positive reaction when the letters were delivered.

One group replied that “we will respect the governor’s order because of the good relationship we have with the health department,” Harris recalled.

She said there are no positive cases of COVID-19 in Todd County right now. But the department has a monitoring program, and anyone who has symptoms may call the health department and be added to the list of people to be monitored.

That offer extends to the Amish and Mennonite communities, Harris said.

She recommended that people practice good hygiene practices and stay home, and Harris said they can get reliable information from their local health departments, the kycovid19.ky.gov website or Beshear’s conferences.

She watches the governor’s updates every day and was tuning in on Sunday when he mentioned her efforts at the Todd County Health Department.

“... Jen Harris, we appreciate you,” the governor said, noting that the director acted as a leader in reaching out to the Amish and Mennonites in Todd County.

“She is willing to work with those communities across the state,” Beshear added. “We are willing to share her information with anyone that needs it.”

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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