NBA Uses 'COVID Sniffing Dogs' That May Or May Not Work But Sure Are Cute

by Julie Scagell
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Promising studies show that dogs *may* be able to detect the coronavirus

First the NBA built a COVID “bubble” to help protect players and staff and restart the season during the pandemic. Now, they are testing out whether canines can detect the virus in fans before they enter the stadium.

The Miami Heat introduced “coronavirus detection dogs” to screen fans and employees as they arrive at their arena — the first team to use dogs in this manner. Any large gathering, especially an indoor gathering like an NBA game, can quickly become a super-spreader event with dire consequences. To date, testing that is scalable for big crowds has been limited. But studies are showing promising results that dogs may be able to help.

The science isn’t full-proof yet, but after reviewing studies conducted in Germany, France, and Lebanon, Matthew Jafarian, Miami Heat’s executive vice president for business strategy, told CNN it may be worth researching further. “During the NBA bubble is really when we started researching, in earnest, how we could bring back fans safely into the arena,” Jafarian said. “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.”

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So…they opted for COVID-sniffing dogs. Another option would be to not let fans into the stadium seeing as basketball games aren’t an essential activity during a pandemic, but I digress…

The German study was published in the medical journal BMC Infectious Diseases and found after just five days of training, the dogs were able to sniff the saliva of 1,000 people — both healthy and infected with COVID-19 — and identify the virus with a 94 percent accuracy.


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It’s not entirely surprising. Dogs have been used to successfully sniff out drugs and explosives at airports and large events and even some medical conditions such as cancer. It makes sense that canines could be trained to detect COVID as well.

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In Miami, fans will line up in a screening area six feet apart, keeping their hands at their sides. The dogs will walk past you and if they sit next to you, that signals to the handler that they might have detected the virus and won’t be let into the arena (but you will get a full refund on your ticket).

While the early testing looks positive, larger-scale studies and peer-to-peer reviews are still needed to prove out the theory.

Of course, in addition to testing its dog program “very slowly,” the NBA continues to use other safety measures like health screening questionnaires, a mandatory mask policy, social distancing, limiting the number of people at the arena, and cashless concession stands.