Miami Heat Launches Innovative Way to Help ‘Sniff Out’ COVID-19 Among Fans

American Airlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat, reopened its doors to a limited number of fans recently, including COVID-19 detection dogs, in efforts to screen attendees and keep the public safe.

That’s right, canines are being used to help keep fans engaged, but also in detecting and halting the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The science is still not confirmed as to whether dogs can detect the infection in people, but the organization is paving the way for the rest of the league. The process, according to the team, is simple. Fans line up in a screening area, while socially distanced at six feet apart and keeping their arms on their sides. The dogs then walk past the line, sniffing each person and, if the dog maintains its course, you are probably virus-free and may enter the building. However, if the dog sits next to a person and remains, he or she, along with their party, may potentially have the virus, may not enter, will be issued a full refund and given important health and safety information.

Along with the use of detection dogs, the team is also requiring fans to abide by a mandatory mask protocol, fill out a health questionnaire before attending and socially distancing when in line at cashless concessions and bathrooms as well.

The practice of utilizing dogs by the Heat comes in conjunction with a partnership with both SNIFF and the Global K9 Protection Group. The two companies previously came together to train dogs to detect the virus, per unique training processes. The idea behind it is to help detect, but it does not offer a solution, as PCR tests are still the best way in diagnosing the virus.

So far, operationally speaking, the partnership is working, and the team foresees doubling capacity, up to 3,000 tickets, by the end of February.

A Dog’s Purpose

Utilizing the amazing sensory capabilities of dogs is nothing new. In fact, when the pandemic started, our four-legged friends were already seen as possible non-invasive screening options. In fact, in 2018, a German Shepherd and Border Collie were both able to detect C. difficile in refrigerated stool samples. Although it was a bacterium, it remains to be seen whether dogs can detect a viral infection.

The virus, itself, does not have a smell or taste. When a person is infected, his or her metabolism changes and dogs can be trained to detect such changes, similar to bomb-sniffing dogs, which are trained to find component scents.

In 2015, two dogs trained to detect viruses in cultured cells. Each were infected with three-different viruses and the dogs could tell which contained what. However, the viruses were ones which infected cattle and not humans.

What This Means for Healthcare Professionals

If dogs are proven to have the ability to detect viral infections, it is not only groundbreaking for professional sports, but for the rest of the world as well. This method, in turn, can potentially get patients in the doors and in front of healthcare professionals much quicker. The process of utilizing dogs to help detect disease is also still very much in its infancy and much more research needs to be conducted, but science would definitely suggest we are on the right path.

Author: Michael Stagno

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