Starting in September 2021, a month-long test screening is being conducted at the Miami International Airport on airport employees by two trained dogs capable of detecting the coronavirus through breath and sweat.
The two dogs responsible are Cobra, a Belgian Malinois and One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd. They were trained to smell volatile organic compounds released by people who were infected by the virus. If any employees were suspected by the dogs to have the virus, they would be immediately administered the rapid COVID-19 test.
This is the first of its kind in the United States and if it is proven successful, the program might be expanded to other airports as well.
The program was approved on March 2021 through Miami-Dade’s Aviation Department with the partnership of the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC), Florida International University (FUI), and American Airlines. It is part of the airport’s program to curb the spread of the virus.
The two 7-year-old dogs were trained at FIU’s campus using protocols they created from decades of research to detect odors of different kinds from bomb detection to illicit drugs to various types of diseases.
Kenneth Furton, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university, said the dogs were provided face coverings from infected and non-infected individuals. The masks were first treated using Ultraviolet-C light to inactivate the virus without changing the odors of the COVID-19 virus.
The dogs were then trained to sweep an area and alert the researchers to the presence of particulates and aerosols that are left on surfaces by people infected by the virus. They conducted double-blind trials and the results showed a 96% to 99% accuracy.
“Everybody, including humans, are wrong at some point. But, they’re almost never wrong”, Furton stated regarding the two dogs.
For the 30-day trial in Miami Airport, the two dogs will be stationed at an employee security checkpoint. Furton said it is humbling to apply years of research to provide an additional layer of protection to airport employees. “These dogs are another valuable tool we can leverage to help us live with this ongoing pandemic”, he added.
After testing the employees, the program will continue to a busier section of the airport in a few weeks that will include travelers. Furton said that dogs might prove to be more accurate and instantaneous in detecting the virus compared to the mechanical sensors and invasive nose swabs. It can also detect infected passengers who are lying about their infection status or exposure.
The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava, stated that she is looking forward to seeing how the airport tests its skills and plans to expand the program to other county facilities.
Similar airports around the world are also testing out dogs to detect the virus from incoming passengers like the Dubai International Airport and the Helsinki Airport in Finland. Arrivals from abroad are asked to wipe their skin with a cloth to be placed in a cup which will then be sniffed by the dogs.