ELLSWORTH — The ongoing pandemic has been filled with new developments and ever-evolving scientific findings. A study conducted in 2020 by Pennsylvania State University showing that white-tail deer in Iowa have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is another twist to add to that list.
With a prevalent white-tailed deer population in Maine, what does this mean for local hunters amid deer hunting season, which ends statewide Nov. 27?
“It’s something that we’re going to monitor but it hasn’t been traced to jumping to humans at this point,” said Mark Latti, communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. “We just ask hunters to take precautions as they always would when handling any wildlife.”
At the onset of the pandemic, Gov. Mills urged Mainers to get outside due to the ease of social distancing and mental health benefits. That sentiment remains true, Latti said, “Absolutely.”
“Getting outside for outdoor recreation is good for both your physical and mental health,” Latti said. “I would say people are taking that message to heart.”
The department has seen an increase in hunting and fishing licenses, number of people on hiking trails and those enjoying snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
In Iowa, the study found that 30 percent of deer that were tested were infected with the virus, according to a Nov. 10 report by NPR.
Consequently, the study suggests that white-tailed deer have potential to be a “reservoir” for SARS-CoV-2, which means they could continue to host and spread the virus.
While the deer did not get sick, the findings were still concerning to researchers.
“If the virus has opportunities to find an alternate host besides humans … that will create a safe haven where the virus can continue to circulate even if the entire human population becomes immune,” co-leader of the study, Suresh Kuchipudi, said in the NPR report. “And so, it becomes more and more complicated to manage or even eradicate the virus.”
The deer were infected by humans or other deer, according to the report, and researchers are now investigating whether deer can pass the virus back to humans or transmit to other species — such as grazing livestock.