The latest new layer of security clearance for employees at Miami International Airport includes a ‘sniff down’ from two dogs who can detect the presence of the coronavirus.
Cobra, a Belgian malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd, are trained to sniff out the presence of COVID-19 in more than 150 employees.
The trial program could later be expanded to testing passengers before they board flights, the Washington Post reports.
Miami International is the first airport in the U.S. to deploy the keen-nosed canines in the battle against the coronavirus.
The seven-year-old dogs are trained to detect the smell of the virus with protocols developed by the Global Forensic and Justice Center at FlU, known as Florida International University.
Cobra and One Betta’s work hours will consist of sniffing face masks of staff going through five of the airport’s employee screening checkpoints to smell the presence of the virus in sweat, breath and scents due to changes within one’s metabolism caused by COVID-19.
If one of the animals alerts staff to a potentially infected employee, the person will be directed to take a rapid COVID-19 test for confirmation.
PICTURED: One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, sniffs a mask for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport
‘The big ‘aha’ for me was not only could the dogs be trained for this work, but that they were so accurate,’ Kenneth G. Furton, a provost and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida International University, told the Washington Post.
The accuracy of the canines’ sense of smell rivals traditional coronavirus tests and even some lab equipment to help combat COVID-19, Furton said.
Backed by decades of science, the dogs can detect the virus with 97.5 percent accuracy, according to a published double-blind study at FIU
One Betta’s accuracy rate was 98.1 percent, while Cobra’s was an highly-impressive 99.4 percent.
‘Everybody, including humans, are wrong at some point. But she’s almost never wrong,’ Furton said of Cobra.
PICTURED: Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, prepares herself to sniff airport employees’ masks for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport
Furton and his colleagues began to study the role of man’s best friend in the fight against the coronavirus last year shortly after the start of the pandemic.
Though Miami is the first US airport to use the ground-breaking method to detect the virus, other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Finland have been using it since last summer.
With 50 times as many smell receptors as humans, dog can not only detect drugs and explosives but also different diseases such as Parkinson’s, blood sugar level changes in people with diabetes and even some different types of cancer.
Cobra was previously served to sniff out disease in plants: she was trained to recognize the scent of laurel wilt, a deadly disease of red bay and other plants in the laurel family including sassafras, pondberry and avocado. The disease is caused by a fungus which is introduced into trees by a non-native insect, the redbay ambrosia beetle.
Though their sense of smell is astonishingly accurate, it can be costly and time-consuming to train dogs to smell the coronavirus, making it a difficult program to scale up.
PICTURED: COVID-19 sniffing canine One-Betta, screens airport workers at an employee checkpoint before they enter the secured area of the Miami International Airport
Dogs must also exceed certain standards and established protocols to be certified for the work.
However, facilities, including airports, will an abundance of choice as any breed can be trained for the task: Cobra and One Betta are purebreds, but other certified dogs in the program are mixed-breed rescue dogs — ‘pound puppies,’ as Furton described them.
Airport scanners can’t match the skill of the dogs, whose detections and alerts are spontaneous, according to Furton.
And their presence may also deter people who are willing to lie about a previous exposure, Furton said.
‘If you’re in line and you do have COVID, you may be less likely to chance it,’ he said.
The two-week-old pilot program is first being tested on airport and airline employees but it will start being in busier sections of the airport in a few weeks, depending on the dogs’ progress.
Miami International Airport (pictured) COVID-19 detection canines will be used to screen employees at their entry checkpoints in a 30 day pilot study.
Furton expects there will be more dogs at security checkpoints for passengers than during normal times under the pandemic.
Similar to the millimeter-wave scanners, the detection method remains optional; those with phobias or religious and health concerns can refuse.
As of late, Florida has reached a record number of deaths this summer and has kept on being a persistent hot spot amid the increase in new infections brought on by the delta variant.
In the past seven days, on average, Florida has added 338 deaths and 14,276 cases each day, according to Herald calculations of CDC and John Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center data
On Thursday, the state’s seven-day average for new single-day cases was 14,276, according to the Center for Disease and Prevention.
Florida only releases its Coronavirus data weekly.
As Florida’s worrying caseload increases, it is likely that the dogs won’t have any shortage of work to do over the next two months of the pilot program — though Furton disclosed that they’re given a hefty reward for their hard work.
‘In this case, their favorite toy is a rubber ball, a Kong,’ Furton said. ‘When they see the Kong getting pulled out, they know it’s time to work. And they know if they get this right, they get their playtime.’
A successful trial of Cobra and One Betta could see them deployed to trials at PortMiami and Miami-Dade’s Government Center in the future.