Miami International Airport has added a layer of security checks for their employees—scanning for COVID-19 using virus-sniffing dogs. 

Each day as staff arrives at Miami airport, they are greeted by Cobra, a female Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd. The 7-year-old canines are there for business, but instead of drug-sniffing, they scan for traces of COVID-19.

It is a part of a pilot program at the airport and the first COVID-19 protocol of its kind to be employed in the U.S., as shared in an airport notice on Sept. 9.

“We’re proud to do everything we can to protect our residents. I look forward to seeing how the airport tests their skills and expanding the pilot program to other County facilities,” said Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor of Miami-Dade County.

Cobra and One Betta will do their duty at the airport for at least 30-days as part of the experiment program.

As employees pass the checkpoint, the next phase would let the keen-nosed dogs examine their face masks. The dogs are expected to detect the virus through metabolic changes in sweat, breath, and scents.

If something amiss that the canines detect is going on, the employees will need to take a rapid COVID-19 test. 

According to The Washington Post, the dog’s accuracy rates are significant.

Kenneth G. Furton, a provost, and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida International University told the news media that the dogs’ accuracy outperforms traditional coronavirus tests and even some lab equipment.

“The big ‘aha’ for me was not only could the dogs be trained for this work, but that they were so accurate,” he said.

One Beta was able to provide 98.1% precision, whereas Cobra had a staggering 99.4%.

“Everybody, including humans, are wrong at some point. But she’s almost never wrong,” said Furton, referring to Cobra.

During these difficult times of COVID-19 infections, high vigilance has become critical. Compared to nasal swabs, the canines seem to be a much preferable choice. 

Furton said mechanical sensors and testing couldn’t compete with the convenience of animals whose detections are virtually instantaneous in an airport situation.

If the scale of this project expands to include passengers, the dogs would be ideal for sifting out those who may have been dishonest with their coronavirus exposure or infection status, the professor said.

“If you’re in line and you do have covid, you may be less likely to change it,” he said, given that the dogs can still be optional for those who may have issues with the animals.

Florida had been a hotspot of COVID-19 infection last month. The New York Times data showed an average of 15,606 as of Sept. 13, a decline from the peaks of more than 20,000 cases per day in mid-August.