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COVID-Sniffing Dogs Now Being Deployed to Detect Infected NBA Fans

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A temperature screening at the door if you’re entering a place of business?

That’s so last year.

The NBA’s Miami Heat now are utilizing dogs to detect COVID-19 in fans who want to attend games at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat have been working on the plan “for months,” according to The Associated Press.

The news service said “highly trained dogs have been in place for some games this season where the team has allowed a handful of guests — mostly friends and family of players and staff.”

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Starting last Thursday, a limited number of ticketholders were to be allowed to attend Heat games for the first time this season — if they got past the dogs first.

If that sounds outlandish, that’s because it is. Perhaps even more outlandish is the method in which these dogs are being deployed. The Heat released a video on Twitter explaining the process.

The AP reported last Sunday that fans arriving for Heat home games would be taken to a screening area, where detection dogs would “walk past.”

“If the dog keeps going, the fan is cleared; if the dog sits, that’s a sign it detects the virus and the fan will be denied entry.”

You read that right. If the dog sits, the fan will be denied entry. You might be thinking, “What if the dog sits for any other reason, considering it’s a dog?”

The article doesn’t address such a situation, probably because it would be nearly impossible to determine whether the dog is sitting for another reason. It seems as if this could result in many false positive diagnoses.

In addition, research on dogs’ ability to detect COVID is limited. While there has been some success, the practice has not be sufficiently reviewed, according to the journal Nature.

Is the use of COVID-sniffing dogs a good idea?
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“Dog trainers are claiming extraordinary results — in some cases, they say that dogs can detect the virus with almost perfect accuracy,” the publication reported.

“But most of these findings have not yet been peer reviewed or published, making it hard for the wider scientific community to evaluate the claims.”

In a broad sense, there probably shouldn’t be much of an issue with using these dogs at an event with voluntary attendance, such as Heat games.

After all, fans don’t have to attend if they don’t want to, and the AP said they could be given an alternative option of a rapid antigen test, which the Heat says can be processed in less than 45 minutes.

Matthew Jafarian, the team’s executive vice president of business strategy, told The Washington Post that any fan barred because of coronavirus detection would get a full refund and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources on how to proceed.

Jafarian said Heat game attendees shouldn’t take their screenings by dogs as proof of whether they have the coronavirus.

“This is not considered a diagnostic test,” he told the Post.

Regardless, the use of dogs that sniff out COVID could become more widespread.

“The coronavirus-sniffing-dog idea has been put into place at airports in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Helsinki in recent months,” the AP reported.

If this process becomes successful at Heat games, would other U.S. businesses use it as well? Imagine a situation in which you must be sniffed by a dog in order to board an airplane.

Don’t get me wrong — I love dogs. Others, however, aren’t fond of them, and it might seem invasive that a dog has to sniff them before they can do certain activities. Furthermore, it bears repeating: Dogs can be wrong. Research on this specific topic is limited.

It might be that dogs aren’t as accurate as we think at sniffing out the coronavirus. Or it’s possible that no matter how well a dog is trained, it might occasionally sit down at its leisure.

If a fan is falsely identified as having COVID-19 and barred from attending an NBA game, it is unfortunate but not a huge deal.

But if a U.S. citizen is barred from an important activity — such as flying — based on false information via a dog, that begins to look like a bigger issue with questions about freedoms.

Dogs sometimes are used to sniff out bombs, but if they identify someone, that person can be checked for explosives or even questioned.

Unlike with bombs, the coronavirus cannot be seen, so the person in question would be at the mercy of the dog’s judgment.

Of course, there’s no guarantee these dogs would be used in airports or anywhere outside of American Airlines Arena.

Yet such a process certainly is possible.

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Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.
Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.




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