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First Case Of COVID Found In Wild Mink Raises Concerns About Spread From Mink Farms

Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

A wild mink tested positive for the coronavirus last week in Utah. After a COVID-19 outbreak at an Oregon mink farm last month, activists say regulators in the state need to tighten enforcement on mink farms to limit the spread of the virus to wildlife.

The animal in Utah was the first wild mink to test positive, indicating the risk of spread between farmed and wild animals.

Lori Ann Burd is with the environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity. She says regulators need to be proactive to protect wildlife from the deadly virus.

“Mink do escape regularly from farms and so ensuring that there is no escape is extremely important in the short term," says Burd. "In the longer term, we need to be having a bigger conversation if it makes sense to have these kinds of facilities at all.”

There are nearly a dozen mink farms in Oregon. Industry sources say they’ve been taking active safety measures to minimize risk of infection to farm workers and animals.

Burd notes there have recently been serious COVID-19 outbreaks at mink farms in three other U.S. states, as well as in Denmark and the Netherlands. She doubts that the spread of the virus in the wild is limited to the single animal that was tested in Utah.

She also says that this case shows that Oregon’s mink farms pose a threat to public health.

“Factory farms are incredibly crowded and disease is rampant," says Burd. "Public health researchers say it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” we see the new disease threat emerge among factory farms.”

So far, state and federal regulators have not advocated closing mink farm operations because of possible COVID outbreaks.