Two mink farms in Taylor County are under quarantine after animals in the facilities tested positive for ARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
Between the two farms, more than 5,400 mink have died, said Kevin Hoffman, the public information officer for the state Division of Animal Health.
The virus was confirmed at the first farm in early October when a dead mink tested positive for the disease. The farm was quarantined at that point, meaning no animals or animal parts could leave the premises. It’s believed the virus jumped from a human to the animals, Hoffman said, but an investigation into the transfer is still underway.
The outbreak at the second farm was found more recently, Hoffman said. It is not believed that the virus jumped from the first farm to the second.
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Mink are members of the Mustelidae family that also includes weasels, badgers, otters, marten and wolverines. Wisconsin is one of the top producers of mink pelts in the U.S., Hoffman said. State officials are worried about the outbreaks and are regularly communicating with the state’s 19 mink farms.
“It’s certainly concerning that (mink) are so susceptible,” Hoffman said.
Valerie Zimbal, who owns Zimbal Mink Farm in Sheboygan Falls, said their mink population is being closely monitored for any signs of disease. They’ve also been implementing biosecurity measures since the pandemic started, like showering in and out, wearing masks, doing temperature checks and limiting visitors to the farm. If any employee feels sick, they are asked to stay at home.
Zimbal said the mink industry has been hit by the pandemic because mink coats and other fur clothing aren’t being bought as often since people are not out shopping as usual.
Wisconsin was the second state to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in mink, after Utah, which confirmed its first case in August, according to the department.
Denmark to slaughter all farmed mink
The U.S. is not the only country facing outbreaks on mink farms. According to a Nov. 4 New York Times report, Denmark will kill all farmed mink due to concerns that mutation in the virus in mink could interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine for humans.
Denmark ordered a lockdown in the northern portion of the country due to the mink outbreak, according to the Associated Press. So far, 12 people have been infected with the coronavirus mutation found in mink, which has shown a weak reaction to antibodies.
Animal welfare groups in the United States are hoping to avoid that outcome, and are calling for the government to shutter all farms to avoid the spread of the disease among the animals.
Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation and the Center for a Humane Economy on Friday asked that governments in Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin to shut down their farms, and asked that the government establish a buy-out program for the farms.
So far, Hoffman said, no actions to close down mink farms in the U.S. have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the agency is monitoring the situation closely.
Minks are more susceptible to the virus because of a protein in their lungs, which is similar to humans, Hoffman said. For that reason, there aren’t concerns over other types of animals, although two dogs in Wisconsin are known to have fallen ill due to the virus.
Hoffman encouraged pet owners with COVID-19 to take precautions, though, to keep their furry companions safe. He recommended wearing a mask while around your pet and keeping a six-foot distance between any ill housemates and pets.
“I know that can be really hard, but it’s the best thing you can do,” he said.
Grace Connatser of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed.
Laura Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/SchulteLaura.