A wild American mink wears a radio collar in Ontario, Canada in 2008. The photo was taken by scientists during a field study of interactions between escaped domestic and wild American mink. There is no evidence that people have been infected by mink in the United States, but scientists fear mink could harbor a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 to humans. Credit: Courtesy of Larissa Nituch
Credit: Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues, and we always provide our news for free.

You can read all of our coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage by signing up for our Wisconsin COVID-19 Update newsletter, and please consider becoming a member to support our nonprofit journalism. 

Today we highlight our story about Wisconsin’s secretive mink farming industry — the nation’s No. 1 provider of pelts — and its possible impact on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freelance reporter Kate Golden, a former Wisconsin Watch staffer, found that Wisconsin officials are racing to understand the scope of the risk of coronavirus-infected mink in Wisconsin, where two farm outbreaks have killed 5,500 mink. There is no evidence that humans have been infected by mink in the United States. But the animals are well-known disease reservoirs who could pass back a mutated version of the virus — one that may be resistant to vaccines.

That is why a state advisory committee of health care experts in January recommended that an estimated 300 mink farm workers be included in the next phase of the vaccine rollout.

Top Stories

Steve Smies prepares “show samples” with a group of mink pelts at the Saga Furs auction house in Stoughton, Wis. The operation was photographed Jan. 7, 2020. Credit: Steve Apps / Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin’s No. 1 mink farming industry now seen as a COVID-19 risk Wisconsin Watch 

Republicans will renew their effort to end Wisconsin’s mask mandate this week, despite public support for it Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

What happens if the Wisconsin Legislature repeals the state mask mandate? Here are five things to know Green Bay Press-Gazette 

Older Wisconsin residents may have accessed COVID-19 vaccine sooner across state lines WPR 

The vaccine news continues to be better than many people realize. The New York Times (The Morning newsletter)

Older adults without family or friends lag in race to get vaccines Kaiser Health News

Former Grafton pharmacist who sabotaged COVID-19 vaccines is a flat-Earther Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Answering eight of Wisconsin’s common vaccine questions The Journal Times 

COVID-19 and the courts: Rock County jury trials postponed again Janesville Gazette 

What are we missing? And how are you coping? Help us provide critical information and accountability by filling out this form or emailing us at tips@wisconsinwatch.org.

Quotable

“My immediate goal for the department is to get through the pandemic, get shots in arms and mitigate risk.” 

Kirsten Johnson, Milwaukee’s newly appointed city health commissioner, as quoted by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service 

Data to note

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services continues to log fewer daily infections, with cases now at their lowest levels since mid-September, but it still reports a seven-day average of more than two dozen new daily deaths.

Public health officials continue to urge Wisconsinites to wear masks and practice physical distancing until vaccinations are more widely distributed. 

WisContext offers these visualizations of Wisconsin COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations. 

Calculate your exposure risk

In Wisconsin, even small gatherings can carry a big risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tool that estimates the danger by the size of gathering and county in which it is held. Data scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University developed the tool, which you can find here

Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us: tips@wisconsinwatch.org

After severe COVID-19 complications, Poynette mother is finally home with her newborn and family WPR 

‘That has become our life, to keep residents safe’: Two new senior living campuses open during COVID-19 TMJ4 News

Access to some stories listed in the Wisconsin COVID-19 Update may be limited to subscribers of the news organizations that produced them. We urge our readers to consider supporting these important news outlets by subscribing.

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Wisconsin Watch

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.