Recent studies in Iowa and Ohio have revealed that a significant proportion of the whitetail population in those states have been infected—33 percent and 36 percent respectively—with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus in humans. And though neighboring Wisconsin has not participated in Covid-19 testing of their deer herds yet, the Department of Health Services in that state is asking hunters to wear a mask while field dressing their deer for the remainder of this season, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Hunters are always encouraged to use good hygiene practices when processing animals to reduce their risk of exposure to many possible disease agents,” DHS says on its website. “Incorporating a few additional measures can also help to reduce their risk of possible exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
There is no evidence that whitetails can transmit COVID to deer hunters, but the studies in Iowa and Ohio—and the fact that there will be more hunters in the woods this weekend when Wisconsin’s gun season begins Saturday—prompted DHS to release the new recommendations.
The agency is also asking deer hunters to limit cutting into and handling deer lungs, throat, mouth, and nasal cavity. Obviously there are going to be some hurdles when submitting the head for CWD testing, but DHS is asking hunters to be as careful as possible. If you are immune compromised, DHS recommends asking someone else to field dress your deer.
“Say what?” Jim Smukowski, a 52-year-old deer hunter, told the Journal Sentinel when asked about the new DHS recommendations. “I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry. I won’t be wearing [a mask].”
There is no evidence that humans can contract COVID from eating venison from a deer infected with the virus. And officials aren’t sure exactly how whitetails contracted Covid-19 in the first place. SARS-CoV-2 has been found in other animals, including mink, otters, tigers, lions, and primates, but those instances have mostly taken place in captive settings such as zoos.