Scientists test Northland wildlife for COVID

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For scientist Seth Moore and a team of other wildlife experts, tracking the coronavirus means freezing temperatures, helicopters, trudging through deep snow and getting uncomfortably close to potentially-dangerous wildlife.

They’re testing deer, moose, bears and wolves on the Grand Portage Reservation in the remote northeastern corner of Minnesota, about 5 miles from Canada. Like researchers around the world, they are trying to figure out how, how much and where wildlife is spreading the coronavirus.

"If COVID is mutating in animals and becoming more virulent, there is some level of risk to humans," says biologist Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. "And then if it does exist, we have to figure out what to do about it."

Scientists are concerned that the virus could evolve within animal populations – potentially spawning dangerous viral mutants that could jump back to people, spread among us and reignite what for now seems like a waning crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as a stark and tragic example of how closely animal health and human health are linked. While the origins of the virus have not been proven, many scientists say it likely jumped from bats to humans, either directly or through another species that was being sold live in Wuhan, China.

And now the virus has been confirmed in wildlife in at least 24 U.S. states, including Minnesota. Recently, an early Canadian study showed someone in nearby Ontario likely contracted a highly mutated strain from a deer.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.