The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now confirmed four cases of humans infected with a variant of the coronavirus originating in farmed mink during an outbreak in Eaton County, Michigan, in late 2020 and early 2021—two mink farm employees, a local taxidermist, and his wife.
While these are the only known instances of humans in the United States contracting a form of the virus that had mutated in nonhuman animals, they are likely not the only ones. The taxidermist and his wife had no contact with the farmed mink, and their infections with the variant were discovered almost two months after those in the mink farm employees, strongly suggesting spread within the community. Further, many other farms exist—over 200 in 18 states as of 2017.
The CDC has no comprehensive system to monitor COVID-19 infections in animals or animal-to-human transmissions in the United States, and the agency took months to publicly disclose the likely mink-to-human transmission in Michigan. To protect public health and the welfare of both captive and wild mink, AWI has called for a phase-out of the mink farming industry and, in the meantime, far greater transparency and enhanced disease monitoring and prevention efforts by federal officials.