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Dogs check dozens of Miami airport workers a day for COVID. They’ve found cases

Detector dogs trained with protocols created by the Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University are assisting with COVID detection at Miami International Airport. (Miami-Dade Aviation Department/TNS)
September 20, 2021

Before they go to work, dozens of Miami International Airport employees have been put to the sniff test from a pair of specially trained dogs that can detect COVID-19.

So far the pilot project launched last month has detected a pair of cases and will be extended until October and could be expanded to other key facilities.

Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd, inspect staff at a checkpoint where employees are required to remove masks and dangle it in front of either dog. The dogs sit to signal if they detect an odor produced by volatile organic compounds common to those infected with COVID-19. The dogs are 97.5% accurate in detecting the virus, said Dr. Kenneth Furton, provost and executive vice president of Florida International University, at a news conference last week.

One Betta from the COVID K9 Unit. (Miami-Dade Aviation Department/TNS)

Cobra and One Betta work Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the eight days that they’ve reported for duty, Miami-Dade Aviation Department Communications Director Greg Chin said the Covid-sniffing canines reviewed 1,093 employees, or about 136 employees per day.

Thus far, the dogs detected two cases. One employee tested positive; the other was recovering from Covid-19.

“After a successful start, the program was extended to the end of October, which gives us more time to collect valuable data on the accuracy and efficiency of the COVID-19 detector dog program,” Furton told the Miami Herald by email. “Because it seems like we’ll be living with this virus for a while, these dogs are an effective way of adding another safeguard against the coronavirus.”

If the dogs signal for COVID-19, the employee would take a rapid COVID test and, if they tested positive, they would be asked to leave and quarantine according to CDC guidelines.

The pilot launched the last week of August through a partnership between the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, Global Forensic and Justice Center, and Florida International University. Miami-Dade County Commissioner for District 9 Kionne McGhee sponsored a 30-day program early this year; Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved plans in March 2021. It is the first U.S. airport to use COVID-19 detector dogs, according to Chin.

After October, Furton said, the dogs will be stationed at the PortMiami and Government Center at downtown Miami

Both pure and mixed-breeds are suitable to detect COVID-19, Furton said at a news conference this month. Dogs with zero experience require between two and three months of training. Some come with prior experience, like Cobra, who was trained to detect laurel wilt, a deadly disease common to avocado trees. Those canines only require two to three weeks to learn to detect a new scent.

Miami Heat fans might recognize the dogs. Cobra and One Betta inspected visitors to FTX Arena alongside two other dogs for Heat games from late January through April. The Heat ended the COVID-sniffing program given the wide availability of vaccines and the increase in vaccine rates.


© 2021 Miami Herald
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