PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) announced Thursday it lifted the quarantine of an Oregon mink farm previously affected by SARS-CoV-2.
On November 24, 2020, ODA placed the farm under quarantine–meaning no animal or animal products could leave the farm–after 10 mink samples tested positive for the virus. Those working on the farm were told by Oregon Health Authority to self-isolate and provided training on enhanced personal protective equipment. It is believed the virus was passed from the caretakers to the mink, according to health officials.
ODA conducted five rounds of SARS-CoV-2 testing during the quarantine. The United States Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Service Laboratories confirmed the last two rounds of samples showed the virus no longer detectable among the 62 samples collected. Per USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, ODA required two consecutive rounds of negative testing for the virus before lifting the farm quarantine.
“Getting to this result involved a big group of hard-working people from several agencies both state and federal, not to mention the cooperation of the farmer,” said Dr. Ryan Scholz, state veterinarian for ODA, in a release. “We followed the guidance provided by USDA and CDC, the farmer cooperated throughout the entire process, the virus was not detected in nearby wildlife, and sequencing showed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus on this farm did not mutate. This is a best-case scenario, and we are sharing what we have learned with others.”
Though the farm’s location is not being disclosed by ODA due to potentially individually identifiable information about a person’s COVID-19 status, which they said is personal information that should not be disclosed, the agency did confirm to KOIN 6 News that at the time the SARS-CoV-2 was detected at the farm, there were less than five employees and about 12,000 animals at the facility.
The conservation group Center for Biological Diversity last month petitioned Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to add mink to the state’s prohibited species. In their view, the quarantine being lifted at the farm was described as “reckless.”
“ODA’s decision to assure the public the threat of COVID-19 at this mink factory farm is abated based on 62 negative samples at a facility with about 12,000 animals is an astoundingly reckless approach to managing a public health crisis,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disturbing that after testing no more than .5% of the animals they rushed to lift the quarantine despite the grave implications another outbreak would pose to workers and wild animals.”
Last month, three mink believed to have escaped the quarantine facility were located outside the farm. Two of the escaped mink tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 at the time.
ODA spokesperson Andrea Cantu-Schomus told KOIN 6 News that a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) for a fur farm in Oregon has to have at least one animal in confinement and a wastewater storage treatment or land application system to require a CAFO Permit registration.
In Oregon, there are 11 registered fur farms that meet the state’s definition of a fur farm facility requiring a CAFO Permit and the agency is not aware of other fur farms outside those 11.
Despite worries from some about reports from overseas of virus-contracted mink propagating a mutation of SARS-CoV-2, U.S. authorities have said the risk of the virus jumping from mink to humans is low and almost negligible when properly managed.