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Scientists study coronavirus outbreaks among minks in Europe
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Live Mic: COVID-19 hits Utah mink farms

FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2012, file photo, minks look out of a cage at a fur farm in the village of Litusovo, northeast of Minsk, Belarus. Coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms in Spain and the Netherlands have scientists digging into how the animals got infected and if they can spread it to people. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Five mink on two Utah mink farms have tested positive for  COVID-19 — the first cases of coronavirus in the species in the US. 

Detection of the coronavirus in mink has already been documented in Europe, including Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands, where hundreds of thousands of mink were gassed in June — most of them pups born only weeks ago. 

US mink-pelt production in 2019 totaled 2.70 million pelts, down 15 percent from 2018. Wisconsin is the largest mink producing state, with 1.02 million pelts. Utah is the second largest producing state, with 556,710 pelts, according to the USDA.

COVID-19 pelts Utah mink farms

Clayton Beckstead, Utah Farm Bureau Northeastern Regional manager, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss the discovery of coronavirus on mink farms in the state.

He said the mink are not free range and are already in quarantine. The animals are not being handled and are fed and watered every day.

Beckstead said biosecurity measures are in place on the farms to keep coronavirus from spreading.

“How was this discovery [of the virus on the Utah farms] made?” Lee asked Beckstead.

“Well, there’s was some unusual deaths on a couple of the farms. [The mink] were sent into a lab for further testing, which is normal protocol. They came back with a positive test for the coronavirus,” he said. 

“Have there been changes to the farms where [the positive tests] were discovered?” Lee asked.

“The employees are limiting their interactions in the sheds. They are wearing masks and gloves and boots to slow [the virus] down or stop it for that matter,” Beckstead said.

“What’s the best-case scenario coming out of this?” Lee asked.

“The coronavirus goes away, and we all live happily ever after,” he joked.

“That’s the way,” Lee replied, laughing. “I guess I should’ve asked this in reverse order. What’s the worst case, and how do we avoid it?”

“The health department and the state veterinarian are telling us this is a non-issue. There are zero cases even worldwide of  [the virus] going from animal to human,” Beckstead said. “Our main concern is that we don’t spread it from human to animals. It’s our livelihood. We’re trying to protect our animals and our herds. That’s our number one priority, keeping our employees safe.

“We’re working hand-in-hand with the state vet and the health department,” Beckstead said. “They’ve been on the farms and seeing what we’re doing and like what they see. We’ll continue to work with them and be open with them. As far as any new and breaking things that come up that we can help slow this down, we’ll certainly implement those. But right now we’re doing everything they’ve asked us to do  — and above — even more than what they’ve asked us to do.”

“How about animal to animal [transmission]? Is that a threat that’s being addressed Or is that a threat that even exists?” Lee asked. 

“A lot of that right now is under research,” Beckstead said. “Right now, we don’t even really know how it’s being spread. [The mink] are individually caged. We’re just trying to be as cautious and careful as possible. We’re trying to record the patterns of how [the virus] moves around. But with those five cases, there’s not a lot we can do. There’s just not a lot of science behind it right now.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.