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Virginia Officials Say Avoid Caves and Bats During Pandemic

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A tricolored bat hangs from a stalactite in Grand Caverns, Virginia. (Photo: Dan Doctor)

Social distancing has now been expanded to include bats. State officials are asking Virginians to stay out of caves during the pandemic, concerned they might spread the virus among themselves and to the bats.

Dan Doctor, chair of the Virginia Cave Board, says much remains unknown, but they are concerned about reverse transmission.

"It is suspected bats are the original hosts for the virus," Doctor said. "But the science is still unclear as to whether a pathogen of this sort could be transmitted from humans back to other mammals such as bats."

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Cave exploration in southwest Virginia. (Photo: Dan Doctor)

The US Geologic Survey is studying the issue. Meanwhile, the Cave Board and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are asking people to practice social distancing and avoid close quarters. "That situation is very difficult to avoid when you’re in a cave," Doctor said.

Virginia has 4,000 known caves, several hundred are frequented by recreational cavers and some, like Luray Caverns, attract half a million tourists a year.