COLUMBUS, Ohio — A tiger at a New York zoo, gorillas in San Diego, and a handful of companion pets, like cats and dogs, have all tested positive for COVID-19.

"We know that this virus can jump species, and what we want to know next, or be able to tell as early as possible, is what other species can it be in," explained Vanessa Hale, and assistant professor in the college of veterinary medicine at The Ohio State University.

Hale and a team of microbiologists and other scientists are part of eScout. The goal is to identify the virus in different animals and determine if those animals are harboring mutations that could spread COVID back to humans.

"We're testing deer squirrels, mink, rabbits and working closely with a lot of different community members, including other veterinarians and veterinary clinics, to test things like ferrets as well," Hale said. "We're also testing pigs at agricultural fairs, so state and county fairs where pigs may be coming together for shows."

The scientists are also monitoring wastewater and urban runoff for the Sars-Cov-2 virus to determine what strain of the virus is circulating. Researchers said environmental surveillance will be important in long-term COVID prevention measures.

Hale said scientists have found that the rates of animal transmission are very low with the exception of minks, which are in the same family as otters and weasels. Hale said COVID seems to transmit more easily from minks to people, and from people back to minks.