An Oregon mink farm is under quarantine after officials confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 on Nov. 27.
The farmer and at least 10 animals have tested positive for the virus, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. ODA did not identify the farm or disclose its location.
State Veterinarian Ryan Scholz visited the farm Nov. 23, and collected 10 samples that were sent to Oregon State University and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for testing. All samples came back positive.
ODA spokeswoman Andrea Cantu-Schomas said the farm was immediately placed under quarantine, meaning no animals or animal products can leave the farm until further notice. Additionally, the farmer and staff, including four employees, were advised to self-isolate.
So far, Cantu-Schomas said all of the mink appear to have recovered within a few days of initially showing symptoms, and no deaths have been associated with the virus.
Cantu-Schomas said the farmer is continuing to care for the mink, while wearing enhanced personal protective equipment. ODA will begin testing mink 7-10 days after symptoms resolve, and if necessary, will continue testing every 14 days until no more infected mink are found.
“We’re waiting for the virus to run its course,” Cantu-Schomas said. “We have the virus contained, we have the farm in quarantine and staff are self-isolating.”
Oregon has 11 permitted mink farms with an estimated 438,327 animals, making it the fourth-largest pelt-producing state behind Wisconsin, Utah and Idaho. Eight of Oregon’s mink farms are in Marion County, one in Linn County and two in Clatsop County.
Cases of COVID-19 in mink have been reported this year in Utah, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in seven countries internationally, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Sweden and Spain.
In Denmark, the world’s largest producer of mink skin and fur, 12 people were infected earlier this year by a mutated strain of COVID-19 that spread from minks to humans — prompting the Danish government to order culling the country’s entire farmed mink population of 15 million animals.
On Nov. 6, the World Health Organization wrote that mink can act as a reservoir of COVID-19 and “pose a risk for virus spill-over from mink to humans.” However, the USDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter Nov. 6 to ODA and the Oregon Health Authority urging the agencies inspect mink farms for potential COVID-19 transmission, and provide information about cases publicly.
Scholz, Oregon’s state veterinarian, said he has been in contact with members of the state’s mink industry and Fur Commission USA providing information about biosecurity.
“The farmer did the right thing by self-reporting symptoms very early and he is now cooperating with us and (OHA) in taking care of animals and staff,” Scholz said in a statement.
Emilio DeBess, OHA public health veterinarian, said his team is working closely with the farmer and those affected to ensure they have the necessary personal protective equipment, supplies and can follow COVID-19 guidance.
“Worker safety is critical to protect people and animals on mink farms,” DeBess said. “Our best weapon against the virus right now is education. We are providing testing, specific workplace guidance and support, and supplying additional PPE to the farmer, the employees and their families to help reduce further spread of the virus.”
Finally, Cantu-Schomas said ODA will be working with OHA, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and USDA Wildlife Services around the farm to trap and test other animals, ensuring the virus does not spill out into the local wildlife population.
Animals tested will likely included dogs, pet cats, raccoons, skunks, house mice, and feral cats.
“It’s just an additional precaution that we’re taking,” Cantu-Schomas said.