Miami International Airport First in US to Test COVID Detector Dogs

Miami International Airport First in US to Test COVID Detector Dogs a dog wearing a harness is held by a leash A shepard named One Betta sniffs a mask for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on Sept. 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Fran Beyer | Sunday, 12 September 2021 08:34 AM

COVID-19 sniffing dogs are now on duty at Miami International Airport to detect the virus in employees before they start work.

Cobra, a female Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd — 7-year-old dogs trained to detect the presence of the coronavirus — are part of a pilot program at one of the nation’s busiest airports, officials there announced last week.

The dogs will sniff the face coverings of employees passing through a checkpoint; if a dog signals the odor of the virus, the person will be asked to take a rapid test, the airport said in a statement.

“Being able to apply decades of research in this way, to provide an additional layer of protection to airport employees at Miami International Airport, it’s humbling,” Kenneth Furton, a provost and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida International University, said in the state.

He later told the Washington Post: “The big ‘aha’ for me was not only could the dogs be trained for this work, but that they were so accurate.”

The canines’ accuracy rivals traditional coronavirus tests and even some lab equipment, Furton told the news outlet, adding that One Betta’s accuracy rate was 98.1%, while Cobra’s was 99.4%.

“Everybody, including humans, are wrong at some point. But she’s almost never wrong,” Furton said of Cobra, the Washington Post reported.

Though Miami is the first American airport to use dogs to detect the virus, countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Finland have started testing the idea, the news outlet noted.

With 50 times as many smell receptors as humans, dogs have long been used to sniff out not only drugs and explosives but also medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, blood sugar level shifts in people with diabetes, and some cancers.

The two-week-old pilot is first being tested on airport and airline employees and will head to a busier section of the airport in a few weeks, according to the Washington Post.

Furton expects it will eventually include travelers.

Florida has seen an unprecedented high in its number of COVID-19 deaths, data compiled by the Washington Post showed.