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Is there a correlation between buying a license to hunt deer and contracting COVID-19? Maybe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should check it out.

That’s a serious question, because the other night I added a word to my COVID-19 vocabulary: zoonosis — the spreading of disease between animals and humans. In the case of COVID-19, the virus can travel from humans to animals (wild and domesticated) and from animals to humans.

A web search of “coronavirus white-tailed deer” brings up news articles quoting scientific studies about the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus in white-tailed deer in Iowa, Ohio, Canada and elsewhere.

“Animals could potentially incubate and unleash new variants. Pet dogs and cats, deer and farm-raised mink are only a few of the animals vulnerable to the virus, which can potentially mutate within them and leap back to people,” an Associated Press article said this week.

According to an NBC News article from Jan. 2, “Widespread, sustained circulation of the virus in deer could represent a risk to people if mutations in deer create a new variant. A population of wild animals harboring the virus could also retain variants that are no longer circulating among humans now and allow them to return later.

“ ‘The sheer possibility that these things are happening and it’s unknown makes this very unsettling,’ said Suresh Kuchipudi, a virologist at Pennsylvania State University. ‘We could be caught by surprise with a completely different variant.’ ”

Tuesday, the AP reported that Hong Kong authorities will kill about 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, because several tested positive for the coronavirus at a pet store where an employee was infected.

This gives more evidence that SARS CoV-19 and its variants is a forever virus. Barring a revolutionary discovery in immunology, we will never eradicate this virus the way we did smallpox and polio. So how do we adapt?

Will people who diligently mask up now be forced to do so for the rest of their lives? Will deer hunters need training in proper handling of carcasses so they don’t enable transmission of a new variant?

When my neighbor’s dog, Dixie, comes over for some attention, should I keep her six feet away? Good luck with that. When my cat, Marco, climbs up on my chest as I relax in a recliner, should I put an N95 mask on her? Like that will happen.

So far the CDC is downplaying the likelihood of zoonotic transmission of the coronavirus, but other experts say it is possible. It makes me wonder if someone is hyping an unlikely threat or if someone is trying to prevent panic over a real one. Given how our knowledge of the coronavirus changes from week to week, it’s hard for a layman to know what to expect. It’s hard enough deciding who to believe about anything pertaining to the virus.

The words “could,” “potentially” and “possibility” in the articles quoted above provide a lot of wiggle room for experts wanting to warn without sounding an alarm. The problem is how people choose to interpret those words as they assess their own risk of contracting COVID-19. And now that I’ve done a web search, we’ll see if the next few days bring any clickbait headlines for me to peruse. The fact no such headlines have popped up during my time on the internet tells me the hazard doesn’t sell well just yet.

Is zoonotic transmission of COVID-19 a real public health threat? Who should we believe? As with everything else related to this virus, Daisy, Marco and I will just have to wait and see.

Jim Ross is development and opinion editor of The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington. His email address is jross@hdmediallc.com.

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