USGS assesses risk for humans to transfer SARS-CoV-2 to bats during summer fieldwork

U.S. Geological Survey
Bats hibernate in a Vermont cave.

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey assesses the likelihood of scientists and wildlife managers transferring coronavirus to North American bats during summer research, finding that less than 2 in 1,000 bats are likely to become infected if no protective measures are taken. 

That risk is reduced by approximately 66% if individuals test negative for COVID-19 three days prior to conducting research. The use of personal protective equipment further reduces potential transmission by approximately 95% when properly wearing N95 respirators, 89% with surgical masks, 54% with cloth masks and 23% with face shields.

This new research, conducted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an updated assessment from one conducted last year and includes new knowledge on North American bat susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and the effectiveness of preventative options.

The assessment is helping inform natural resource agencies as they consider whether and how to allow some bat research and management activities to resume this summer. Summer research activities frequently require coming in close proximity to or directly handling bats to study white-nose syndrome, which is a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in North America. People also handle bats while removing them from buildings and caring for injured bats.