COVID-19 outbreak declared at mink farm in B.C.’s Fraser Valley

Eight people have tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak at a mink farm in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver.

Fraser Health Authority said in a written statement Sunday the farm operators and staff who tested positive are isolating, as are their close contacts.

The statement did not say how the virus was transmitted, but employees are undergoing screening and officials are conducting contract tracing. Animals at the farm are also being tested for the virus.

In the meantime, the mink farm has been ordered to restrict the transport of animal, products and goods from the farm, the health authority statement said.

Millions of minks were culled in Denmark last month after 11 people were sickened by a mutated version of the coronavirus that had been observed among the animals.

The Danish government decided to cull all of Denmark’s roughly 15 million minks, including healthy ones outside the northern part of the country where infections were found. It has also banned mink farming until the end of 2021.

Mink breeder Thorbjoern Jepsen holds up a mink, as police forcibly gained access to his mink farm in Gjoel, Denmark on Oct. 9. (Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix/Associated Press)

According to the World Health Organization, 214 human cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Denmark since June that have SARS-CoV-2 variants associated with farmed minks.  

The WHO bulletin says the minks were infected following exposure to infected humans. “Minks can act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, passing the virus between them, and pose a risk for virus spill-over from mink to humans,” said the report dated Nov. 6.

It identified six countries that had reported SARS-CoV-2 in farmed minks, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy and the United States.

Canadian mink farms 

In Canada, the highest numbers of fur farms are located in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the Canada Mink Breeders Association.

The association says 1.7 million farmed mink were produced in Canada in 2018, mainly in rural communities and the industry employs more than 60,000 Canadians. 

Mink farms in British Columbia are concentrated in the Fraser Valley, according to a 2014 B.C. Agriculture Ministry briefing.

In a statement, B.C.’s Agriculture Ministry confirmed the outbreak is limited to one farm in the Fraser Valley. It said samples from some mink are being sent to the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg for testing.

According to the statement from Fraser Health, WorkSafeBC has inspected the site and are working with the farm on its COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

WorkSafeBC is also reaching out to other mink farms in B.C. to discuss their COVID-19 safety plans and measures to prevent transmission.

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