The Miami Heat will have fans in the stands Thursday night for the first time in months with the help of some particularly fast and accurate Covid-19 detectors — virus-sniffing dogs.
Ticket holders will be screened by Covid-19 detection dogs when they arrive at America Airlines Arena for the 8 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Clippers, officials said on the team's website.
The dogs will walk past each fan upon arrival, according to a video posted to the site. If a dog sits down, the dog is indicating that it has detected the virus, and the person and their party will not be allowed in the arena.
The Heat website specifies that the Covid-sniffing dogs have been specifically trained to identify the virus and won't sit down in the presence of someone who has simply been vaccinated.
The trained dogs can often detect the virus before a person is symptomatic.
"We're familiar with explosive detection canines, drug dogs and so forth, and in this case, the dogs are trained on the odor of the virus, or the metabolic changes of a person that produce an odor that they can be trained to alert to," said Kenneth Furton, the provost and executive vice president of Florida International University, which developed a task force to train Covid-detecting dogs.
Furton told NBC Miami that dogs who have no experience with scent detection could take months to train on Covid searches, but dogs who have learned to sniff out other diseases, drugs or explosives can learn to pick up the virus odor "in a matter of days."
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"I think it can provide an extra layer of protection, particularly for wide areas, because even though there is a lot of excitement with the vaccine, it's going to take a while for all of us to get vaccinated," Furton said.
Heat fans will also have to adhere to other Covid-19 prevention policies, the team said. Only a limited number of fans will be allowed in the arena and everyone must wear masks. Guests must stay 6 feet apart and can only order nonalcoholic drinks to be consumed in designated areas.
People sitting within 30 feet of the court will receive rapid tests before the game, as will those who have an aversion to dogs, according to officials.
All fans are asked to arrive early to fill out a questionnaire and be screened by the dogs.