Orthodox Jew’s have one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates

covid-19 infection rates
© Marcela Ruth Romero

A new study has found that the UK strictly-Orthodox Jewish community experienced one of the highest infection rates of COVID-19 throughout 2020

A new study, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), suggests that 60% of the UK strictly-Orthodox Jewish community may have had COVID-19 in 2020.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of a tightly-knit strictly-Orthodox Jewish community in the UK approached LSHTM researchers to help them understand the rate of infection in their community.

From the survey, just under 700 individuals (39%) reported an illness they thought had been COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 antibodies

The research team took blood samples from 1,242 survey participants and tested it for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The infection rate was found to be 64%.

The lowest rate of infection was in children aged under five years (28%), and the highest in secondary school children and adults (75%). Overall, men were found to have a higher rate of infection than women.

Religious minorities

Ethnic and religious minorities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to range of factors that are thought to contribute to this increased risk, including: deprivation, reduced ability to work from home, larger household sizes and higher rates of comorbidities.

The researchers say the reasons behind this high rate of infection among the strictly-Orthodox Jewish community are not yet clear.

Dr Michael Marks from LSHTM who co-led the study said:

“Our work has revealed the extremely high rates of infection in this very interconnected population. Working in tandem with the community we are conducting further work to understand the potential factors involved.”

Michael Marks said:

“The rates we observed are among the highest reported anywhere in the world to date. As our survey was completed by early December 2020, prior to the subsequent surge in cases, it is likely that the overall burden of infection in this community is now even higher.

“Whilst lockdown measures were still very effective at reducing transmission, over the course of 2020 three out of four secondary school-aged children and adults were still infected.

“We would very much like to thank the community. It was a privilege to work directly with them, and think this community partnership approach could be a blueprint to further understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on other groups in the UK.”

Rabbi Hershel Grunfeld, Founding Director of MARS said,

“The decision to initiate this study was made in May 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with senior Rabbinical support.

“By developing a better understanding of the effect of COVID-19 in strictly-Orthodox settings, the study’s purpose is to protect people, save lives and inform safety planning within communities.

“We want to thank the LSHTM team for their support in developing this research project with these objectives in mind.”


The preliminary study, which was funded through the UKRI-NIHR COVID-19 rapid response call, can be read here.

The study was conducted with partners University College London’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and the Medical Advocacy and Referral Service (MARS) and was also supported by a donation from the LSHTM Alumni COVID-19 response fund, HDR UK, the MRC and Wellcome.


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