For the first time since the U.S.'s coronavirus outbreak began, the Miami Heat will play in an arena filled with fans Thursday, though guests will have to face some four-legged security before entering.
The Heat are scheduled to play the Los Angeles Clippers at 8 p.m., and as ticket holders arrive for the game, they will be greeted by Covid-detecting dogs.
“If you think about it, detection dogs are not new,” said Matthew Jafarian, the Heat's executive vice president for business strategy. “You’ve seen them in airports, they’ve been used in mission critical situations by the police and the military. We’ve used them at the arena for years to detect explosives."
Other protocols guests are mandated to follow include a health screening questionnaire, mask-wearing, social distancing and cashless transactions. The stadium will be filled to a limited capacity.
Isolation rooms will also be available if guests feel ill, and only nonalcoholic beverages will be sold.
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And if a fan is allergic to or afraid of dogs, the Heat are offering an option to skip the dog screening and submit to a rapid antigen test instead. Those tests can reportedly be processed in less than 45 minutes.
Research has proven that dogs can be trained to sniff out people with Covid-19 by detecting the scent of the virus in human sweat. A German study last year found that dogs there were right 94% of the time when it came to coronavirus detection.
"We're familiar with explosive detection canines, drug dogs and so forth, and in this case, the dogs are trained on the odor of the virus, or the metabolic changes of a person that produce an odor that they can be trained to alert to," said Kenneth Furton, the provost and executive vice president of Florida International University, which developed a task force to train Covid-detecting dogs.
Furton told NBC 6 that dogs who have no experience with scent detection could take months to train on Covid searches, but dogs who have learned to sniff out other diseases, drugs or explosives can learn to pick up the virus odor "in a matter of days."
"I think it can provide an extra layer of protection, particularly for wide areas, because even though there is a lot of excitement with the vaccine, it's going to take a while for all of us to get vaccinated," Furton said.