COVID-19 outbreak on Oregon mink farm among people and animals confirmed

An Oregon mink farm reported an outbreak of the coronavirus among animals and workers on November 19. The farm was placed under quarantine by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) on November 23. No animals or animal products can leave the farm while the farm is under quarantine. All of the farm’s workers were asked to self-quarantine.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, a spokeswoman for ODA, would not say which county the mink farm is in or how many farm workers tested positive for the coronavirus. She cited federal health privacy rules as the reason for not giving out more specific information. She did say that the farm has about 12,000 animals. The majority of the state’s mink farms, eight out of 11, are located in Marion County.

When the farm’s owner reported the COVID-19 outbreak among the mink, ODA took samples from ten of the sick minks. All of the samples came back positive for COVID-19. Cantu-Schomus didn’t say how many minks are affected but that the ten animals tested were a sample of the mink population on the farm. The Oregon Health Authority asked the farmworkers to self-isolate.

Several states have reported outbreaks in farmed minks, as have other countries. Earlier this month, Denmark reported a decision to exterminate its entire population of minks, about 17 million. The report from Denmark that a mutated strain of the virus spread from the minks to humans has not been reported elsewhere.

Oregon has the nation’s fourth-largest farmed mink industry. Wisconsin, Utah, and Michigan also have a large number of mink farms. All of these states have reported coronavirus outbreaks. State and national environmental groups are taking advantage of the reported outbreaks by lobbying for the closure of mink farms.

“This was so foreseeable,” said Lori Ann Burd, with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups urging Oregon to take action. “We’ll certainly be following up with the agency to demand answers and to find out what they’re doing to mitigate this outbreak and public health risk.”

In letters to Gov. Kate Brown and state agencies, the groups asked for immediate inspections of Oregon’s mink farms, as well as quarantines and a phased buy-out of the industry.

At that time, state officials said they did not intend to take any of the groups’ recommendations. Oregon’s state veterinarian has been communicating with mink farmers about the outbreaks, Cantu-Schomus has said.

“We have been engaged with the Oregon mink industry for some time, providing information on biosecurity to prevent the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 and were ready to respond,” State Veterinarian Ryan Scholz said in a written statement Friday.

“The farmer did the right thing by self-reporting symptoms very early and he is now cooperating with us and the Oregon Health Authority in taking care of his animals and staff,” Scholz said. “So far, we have no reports of mink mortalities linked to the virus but that could change as the virus progresses.”

In Wisconsin, about 3,400 farmed mink have died over the past month after contracting the virus. And in Utah, about 10,000 mink have died since August.

All of the minks on the farm appear to have recovered from the virus. It is suspected that farmworkers spread the virus to the animals. The mink didn’t infect the workers. More testing will be done in 7 to 10 days after the symptoms stop and, if necessary, continue every 14 days until no infected mink is found. The sample size will be much larger. The ODA has no plans to do inspections or test mink unless symptoms are reported. ODA is working with OHA, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the CDC to study how the virus is transmitted among mink, other animals on the farm, and people.

According to the World Health Organization, cases of COVID-19 have been reported in farmed mink in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy, and Greece.

Michael Whelan, executive director of Medford-based Fur Commission USA, a national nonprofit representing mink farmers, said the group is offering free testing to farm operators and employees. He reminds farmers of the seriousness of the virus and of the need to screen people who come in contact with the mink. The good news is that there is no indication that the virus is being spread to humans by the minks. Though investigations are on-going, there is no evidence of mink to human spread.

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