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Thousands of minks dead in coronavirus outbreak on Utah farms

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Thousands of minks at Utah fur farms have died because of the coronavirus in the past 10 days, forcing nine sites in three counties to quarantine, but the state veterinarian said people don’t appear to be at risk from the outbreak.

The COVID-19 infections likely were spread from workers at the mink ranches to the animals, with no sign so far that the animals are spreading it to humans, said Dr. Dean Taylor, the state veterinarian, who is investigating the outbreak.

“We genuinely don’t feel like there is much of a risk going from the mink to the people,” he said Thursday.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 minks have died since the disease swept through the ranches that produce the animals, valued for their luxurious pelts. So far, no animals in Utah have been euthanized because of the disease, and it doesn’t appear to be necessary, Taylor said.

Fur from the dead infected animals will be processed to remove any traces of the virus and then used for coats and other garments, according to Fur Commission USA, a mink farming trade group. The U.S. produces more than 3 million mink pelts each year.

Taylor declined to name the farms or the counties where the affected minks were found.

With minks, as with humans, COVID-19 is less deadly for the young.

“It’s going through the breeding colonies and wiping out the older mink and leaving the younger mink unscathed,” Taylor said. Most of the deaths have been in minks between the ages of 1 and 4 years.

In addition to the minks, more than 50 animals in the U.S. had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Sept. 2, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The infections have been detected in pet cats and dogs, as well as lions and tigers at a New York zoo.

Minks seem particularly susceptible to COVID-19, likely because of a protein in their lungs, the ACE2 receptor, which binds to the virus and appears to predict vulnerability to the infection, according to Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. Humans also have this protein in their lungs.

The COVID outbreak in Utah has surged since mid-August, when the first cases of the disease in the animals were confirmed by the USDA.

Minks were discovered to be susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, in April, after outbreaks at several farms in the Netherlands, followed by outbreaks in Denmark and Spain. More than 1 million animals were culled in those countries, according to the Associated Press.

Several workers at the Utah mink farms have tested positive for COVID-19, including some who had no symptoms.

“Some of our mink ranchers have more than one facility, and that’s probably how it spread,” Taylor said.

A study in the Netherlands found that the virus appeared to jump back and forth between people and minks, but the data so far remains limited.

After the initial U.S. cases were confirmed, mink farms across Utah and the rest of the country implemented strict measures to prevent the disease from spreading, such as restricting access, conducting health checks on workers and disinfecting surfaces. The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guidelines for farmed minks and other mustelids, a family of animals that also includes weasels and badgers.

“Obviously, it’s very concerning to have a species that is this susceptible with this high of a death rate,” Taylor said.

The outbreak has led to the quarantine of a quarter of Utah’s three dozen mink ranches and raised concerns across the state, said Clayton Beckstead, regional manager for the Utah Farm Bureau and a fourth-generation mink farmer.

“We’re certainly worried, but I think everybody’s taking pretty extreme biosecurity measures,” said Beckstead, whose own farm has not been affected.

Utah is one of the nation’s top mink producers. Overall, there are 245 fur farms in 22 states, part of an industry valued at $82.6 million a year, according to Fur Commission USA.

Investigating an outbreak of a novel virus in a new species is “daunting,” Taylor said.

“We’re learning as quick as we can,” he said. “We’re scrambling to help these animals and protect this industry.”

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published by KHN. Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) and, along with Policy Analysis and Polling, is one of the three major operating programs of KFF. KFF is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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SpaceX Starship rocket explodes in fireball just after landing in dramatic footage

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It is the third SpaceX Starship to blow up after landing – but billionaire founder Elon Musk didn’t let it faze him – tweeting ‘RIP SN10’ as his work went up in a fireball

Elon Musk’s latest SpaceX Starship rocket experiment has once again ended up in flames.
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The Earth’s deepest secret was just revealed by scientists

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The research into what lies deep, deep beneath our feet has yielded precious few details over the past few decades. We all grew up learning that we live on the Earth’s crust, which is just a thin layer above the mantle. Beneath that, the outer core surrounds the inner core, and… well, that’s it, or so we thought. Now, scientists have offered us an update to this model, and they believe the discovery may be concrete enough to warrant the rewriting of textbooks.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a small team of scientists says that the most widely accepted model of the interior of the Earth doesn’t necessarily jive with the data that is available. In its place, the researchers propose a new model that includes a new layer within the inner core, and they say that, based on the data, it may be evidence of a “traumatic event” somewhere in Earth’s history.

The new layer the researchers are said to have confirmed is distinct from the inner core and would represent a new “central inner core,” for lack of a better term. To do this, the team collected a massive amount of data from seismic events over decades, then tested them against models of the Earth’s interior. What they found was that the notion of a new core layer was the best way to match the data with a model.

“Traditionally we’ve been taught the Earth has four main layers: the crust, the mantle, the outer core and the inner core,” Joanne Stephenson, lead author of the work, said in a statement. “The idea of another distinct layer was proposed a couple of decades ago, but the data has been very unclear. We got around this by using a very clever search algorithm to trawl through thousands of the models of the inner core.”

How exactly this newly-identified layer formed is anyone’s guess, but it may point to a more complex story of early Earth formation than was previously accepted.

“We found evidence that may indicate a change in the structure of iron, which suggests perhaps two separate cooling events in Earth’s history. The details of this big event are still a bit of a mystery, but we’ve added another piece of the puzzle when it comes to our knowledge of the Earths’ inner core.”

The discovery of a new core layer may not change much when it comes to our daily lives, but it’s a big step toward better understanding how our planets and others like it form. If we hope to have a solid understanding of the nature of planets, figuring out what is hiding deep within them is a prerequisite and a pretty big one.

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Bodies of 11 Infants Found in Ceiling of Funeral Home May Have Been Hidden Because Parents Couldn’t Pay

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On Friday, Michigan state investigators received an “anonymous letter” directing them to a Detroit funeral home that closed in April for “deplorable, unsanitary conditions.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, investigators entered the Cantrell Funeral Home with permission from the new owner, who was in the process of converting it to a community center, Detroit Police Lt. Brian Bowser said.

There, they located the bodies of 11 infants and “stillborns” hidden inside a “drop-down ceiling” between the first and second floor of the building.

Nine of the bodies were located hidden inside a box, and two were found inside a garbage bag in a small casket, Bowser confirmed at a press conference.

Police have not confirmed the identities of the infants or why they were hidden in the ceiling. The bodies were badly decomposed; some were “mummified,” and others were “embalmed.”

In April, the funeral home was shut down over unsanitary conditions after inspectors found bodies that had been left to mold and decay.

Owner Raymond Cantrell II admitted he kept bodies when the families couldn’t pay. At the time, he told WJBK:

“Those who have asked me to hold their loved ones will know I was doing them a favor to accommodate them. For those that weren’t, like the many of the cremated they are trying to take from here or that they are taking from here. Those individuals we called we’ve tried to notify and they haven’t been picked up.”

Police have not confirmed that’s why the infants were kept. But Pastor William C. Curtis, who owns three Detroit funeral homes, said that could be the case.

He told the Detroit News:

“A lot of times the family don’t pay and you have to take them to court. There is no recourse, but holding a body isn’t justifiable. It’s not like repossessing a car, you can’t give the body back.”

Cantrell took over the funeral home from his father in 2017. Curtis said they “used to get a lot of business.”

The medical examiner’s office is currently working to identify all the infants and reunite them with their families, it said in a statement.

Cantrell is not facing charges in relation to the discovery at this time.

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