Canines sniff out COVID cases in US stadium!

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Video: CNBC Television (YouTube)

Dogs have also joined the war against COVID-19. At least at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, United States, as US continues to be hard hit by the fatal respiratory disease.

COVID-19 Detection Dogs made their debut as staunch supporters of the American professional basketball team Miami Heat returned to AmericanAirlines Arena on January 28th, 2021, with the National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball team maintaining the deployment of dogs is only one element of their venue safety strategy.

The 21,000-capacity AmericanAirlines Arena is a sports and entertainment multipurpose arena located in Miami, Florida (US), along Biscayne Bay. It was constructed beginning in 1998 as a replacement for the Miami Arena and designed by the architecture firms Arquitectonica and 360 Architecture. It is the home venue of Miami Heat.

The Miami Heat is an American professional basketball team based in Miami, US. The Heat competes in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Southeast Division. The club plays its home games at the AmericanAirlines Arena, and has won three NBA championships.

The Heat recently announced they would welcome around 1,500 season-ticket holders and ahead of January 28th game against the NBA team Los Angeles Clippers released a COVID-19 safety guide. Included in these guidelines was the use of COVID-19 Detection Dogs.

Fans are scanned by the dogs when they arrive at the AmericanAirlines Arena and have to take part in a health screening questionnaire which has been made compulsory. If a dog detects the virus, the fan and those in their travel party are not allowed to enter the arena, with ticket refunds given.

Those fans that are not comfortable with the idea of being screened by a dog have an alternative testing option, but the Heat said this could take up to 45 minutes to conduct. Speaking ahead of the game, Miami Heat’s Executive Vice-President for Business Strategy, Matthew Jafarian, said the team had previously done a pilot with the dogs on a smaller scale to screen personnel and “learned a lot during that time”.

Jafarian told mediapersons, “During (last year’s) NBA bubble is really when we started researching, in earnest, how we could bring back fans safely into the arena. We looked at a variety of options. There were breathalyzer tests that we looked at. We looked at traditional diagnostic tests, like rapid antigen and PCR tests. And we thought through operationally how we could administer that to hundreds and thousands of people coming into the building.”

Jafarian added that around that same time, some early studies were being published on the use of dogs to detect COVID-19. While the research is yet to be fully approved, Jafarian said he found the studies “compelling” because they reached similar results. He said the Heat is taking its dog program “very slowly” until it learns more, with the venture designed to complement the wider guidelines.

Jafarian said the Heat decided to take the plan forward after being approached by a new company, SNIFF, with an offer to use detection dogs in the arena. SNIFF has teamed up with Global K9 Protection Group to steer ahead its project.

Michael Larkin, Vice-President, Commercial Services, at the Global K9 Protection Group, maintained, “It’s important for people to understand that this technology and this solution is evolving, and it doesn’t replace going to a doctor or a PCR test. The dog is designed to be an initial human body screening tool, but if there was a positive indication, our first recommendation would be go seek professional medical attention and get a PCR test.”

Studies on how reliable dogs are in detecting COVID-19 infections remain ongoing.

“I think it’s so new and novel that we have yet to determine how effective it is and how reliable the canines are at detecting these types of things,” remarked Dr. Douglas Kratt, President, American Veterinary Medical Association.

“We’re just such on the front edge of it. But it is very exciting to see that we could have another tool in detecting coronavirus,” the vet added.

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