Vineyard deer are being COVID-19 tested


Deer felled by Vineyard hunters are being tested for COVID-19. The Martha’s Vineyard Hunt Club has received test kits from tick ecologist Dick Johnson to do some testing after a study showed deer populations in Iowa showed signs of the disease.

Game butcher and hunt club member Brian Athearn said the club received nasal swab tests, which are ready to be sent off next week.

He and fellow hunt club member Joe Capece performed the tests, Athearn said.

Tufts University research scientist Sam Telford told The Times deer definitely get COVID-19, but “there’s no risk to hunters.”

Generally speaking, Telford found it unlikely deer can pass COVID-19 to people, and it’s unclear how humans may be passing it to deer. 

Athearn hasn’t expressed concern about COVID-19 in the deer he butchers. 

The hunt club runs a game butchery and deer locker at Athearn’s West Tisbury home. To date, Athearn says, about 50 deer have been processed this season. Each deer requires a lot of cutting to harvest the meat on it, Athearn said. He calculated it takes 1,500 cuts no matter what size a deer is. “No matter how you cut it, 1,500 cuts,” Athearn said.

Telford said aside from deer testing at the local level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has commissioned the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to do widespread COVID-19 testing on deer.