MADISON - Wisconsin animal health officials are cautioning the state's mink producers about the dangers of the coronavirus following outbreaks among animals on several farms in Europe, spurring renewed calls from animal rights activists to ban the fur trade.
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the state's $223 million mink industry, which is the largest in America. Still, producers say they're taking precautions to protect their herds, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Kevin Hoffman, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the agency released guidance this month from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control for veterinarians who work with Wisconsin's mink ranches.
The guidance revealed that the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected in mink on multiple farms in the Netherlands and research has shown ferrets, a close relative of mink, can catch and spread the disease in laboratory settings. It noted that there is no evidence suggesting that animals "play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans," though it cautioned that further study was needed.
Many coronaviruses can spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching an infected person, but officials said the present illness does not not transmit readily between people. Earlier this year, the Wuhan (China) Municipal Health Commission said some of the infected patients ran businesses in a seafood market, meaning it's possible they were infected by animals there. The market was suspended and under investigation.
Last week, Hoffman said his agency hadn't received any reports of suspected mink infections in Wisconsin.
The state, which had 67 mink farms as of the last USDA census, supplied nearly half of the country's roughly 3 million pelts sold in 2018. The state's fur exports that year were worth close to $227 million, DATCP estimates.
Bob Zimbal is the owner of Zimbal Minkery in Sheboygan, the state's largest mink producer. He said he's not concerned about the potential for infection, noting that his operation has always had biosecurity procedures in place and is now doing temperature checks on staffers.
U.S. animal rights activists contend that the European outbreak shows that confined animal breeding is a public health matter, and they want to see more controls on the mostly unregulated domestic fur industry.
"Mink farms are really kind of breeding grounds for infectious diseases," said PJ Smith, director of fashion policy for the Humane Society of the United States. "Not only is this industry horribly cruel to animals and bad for the environment, but now it's a risk for the spread of COVID-19."
CRANDON - The Forest County Humane Society works around the clock to help animals find forever homes. But taking care of those animals during their stay doesn't just take a lot of time; it takes a lot of money, too.
The shelter got a helping hand, thanks to a $35,000 grant from the ASPCA. It's part of an initiative to help brick-and-mortar shelters improve their animals' quality of life.
Shelter director Angie Schaefer says that money paid for 20 new cat-condos, fencing for two new dog yards, and several other much-needed supplies.
"We're small, we're in a small community, so to raise that kind of money to get these items would have been quite a task. For them to step in and do that for us is amazing," said Schaefer.
Schaefer said the extra yards will allow dogs to spend more time outside and socialize with each other.
If you're interested in volunteering or donating to the humane society, visit its website for more information.
MADISON, WI - Cigarette smoking rates have dropped since Wisconsin's Smoke-Free Indoor Air Law went into effect 10 years ago.
In 2008, before the law passed, 20% of Wisconsin adults smoked cigarettes. By 2018, the rate had dropped to 16%. High school youth cigarette smoking rates dropped from nearly 21% in 2008 to nearly 5% in 2018.
State cigarette taxes were also increased during this time period and contribute to this reduction.
"Wisconsin is breathing easier today thanks to this law, but we know there are many people in our state who still smoke," said DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm. "We urge smokers to take advantage of the programs available to help them to quit, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people who smoke are believed to be more susceptible to the virus, and can become severely ill with it."
- The U.S. headed into the Fourth of July weekend with many parades and fireworks displays canceled, beaches and bars closed, and health authorities warning that this will be a crucial test of Americans' self-control that could determine the trajectory of the surging coronavirus outbreak.
With confirmed cases climbing in 40 states, governors and local officials have ordered the wearing of masks in public, and families were urged to celebrate their independence at home. Even then, they were told to keep their backyard cookouts small.
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