But many more virus samples were collected from farm workers, local residents, and mink to determine when and between whom the mutation first appeared, which was collected before and after the outbreak. “That information doesn’t exist,” said Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist at Saskatchewan University.
Throughout 2020, testing was difficult for Americans and some patient samples are being sorted. Surveillance of animals was even worse; Until this spring, federal officials had clearly recommended against routine testing of animals for the virus.
“Extensive testing was not available, then there was a shortage of specific supplies,” Dr Behrvesh said. “So we didn’t want to be there, you know, a crazy crowd to test the animals.”
Without further sampling, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of this variant appearing in humans, who then spread it to mink, scientists say.
One big puzzle is how the taxidermist and his wife got it. Most likely, several experts say, the variant spread more widely than was known in the human population, and the couple picked it up from another infected person.
Another, more speculative, possibility is that they picked up the variant from another animal species. “Toxidermists deal with other dead animals,” said Linda Saif, a virologist and immunologist at Ohio State University.
But Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan DHHS, said that since the cases were identified “weeks to months after the two became ill, it was either not possible or not possible to test whether they could be in contact with any animal.”