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Florida turns to Covid-detecting dogs amid surging cases

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Dr. Kenneth Furton, Provost, Executive Vice President and COO at Florida International University, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss Miami International Airport’s Covid-detecting dogs with 97.5% accuracy in detecting Covid-19.

Video Transcript

- Welcome back. Miami International Airport is showing off the first ever airport team of COVID sniffing dogs. They are specially trained to detect and alert officials of any potentially infected travelers before they board. And get this, the dogs get it right more than 97% of the time.

Joining me now is Dr. Kenneth Furton. He is Provost and Executive Vice President and COO at Florida International University. We're also joined by Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero. Hello and good afternoon to you both.

So, Doctor, tell us how this is working with these dogs, how long have they been doing this and is it the passengers that are being sniffed now or is it just employees of the airport?

KENNETH FURTON: Good afternoon. It's great to be here with you. Right now we're just doing the employees of mostly American Airlines employees at one of the checkpoints. And we initially had started this program here at FIU's campus searching areas but this is the first time we're applying these dogs to detecting people. And it's about three weeks into a two-month pilot at Miami International Airport.

DANI ROMERO: And, Doctor, one thing I know that it's part of a 30 day pilot program, like you said. Will we see this kind of expand to other airports and do we know, like, the timeline of when travelers will also expect this?

KENNETH FURTON: Yeah, that's a great question. So we were able to show and we did published a double-blind study that the dogs can be reliable over 97% of the time. That's under controlled circumstances. So now we're deploying them at a busy airport, Miami International Airport, one of the busiest.

And so once we complete this study, the hope is that we will be able to expand it throughout MIA and then to other airports around the country based on the success of the-- and what we learn from this initial pilot.

- And are they--

- And how do the Belgian know what COVID smells like?

KENNETH FURTON: Well, what's interesting is what we do, is we just take face coverings like masks that you would wear and we work with the local partner Baptist Health South Florida. And so we had patients who were positive with COVID and other patients who had negative for COVID, and then we shine UV light onto the masks and we're able to deactivate the virus, but the odor is still there. We confirm in the lab that the odor is there.

And so the dogs are really just working to get their treat, or their toy, in this case. So they like to play for a little red ball called a kong. And if they find the right mask, then they get to play with their toy. And we just do over and over, over a period of-- if the dog's already trained, it only takes a few weeks really to train them to the new odor. If they're brand new, green dogs, it might take a few months to get them proficient. But they really pick up the odor just in a matter of days.

- That is just incredible. And are these specific breeds of dogs that you're working with and also can they pick up the different variants, because we know that this virus continues to mutate?

KENNETH FURTON: Yes, so the two dogs that are right now deployed at Miami International Airport are one's a Belgian Malinois and the other is a Dutch Shepherd. They're both about 7 and 1/2 years old and they're 98 and 99% effective. One's called Cobra and one's called OneBetta. But we've also worked with rescue dogs, so dogs that just come from a shelter.

So any dog can be trained to do it. It's just a matter of the drive. So you want a dog that wants to, in this case, have a play, reward, or in some cases, like we have beagles that we've trained that like to eat. And you've seen the Beagle Brigade at the airport that do for agriculture. So it is possible to use pretty much any breed.

DANI ROMERO: And what's the accuracy, I guess, among the different breeds and have you found any positive cases since the program rolled out?

KENNETH FURTON: Yeah, so in the case of the four dogs that we did in our published paper, the purebreds actually did slightly better, but they were all over 96% reliable. So all very effective. And we've only had a couple of alerts so far at the airport in this pilot study.

One had read a passenger ahead or an employee had just finished going through COVID-19 and was just returning to work. And so, when there is an alert, then the person goes and gets a PCR test to grease. That's sort of we have a volunteer line and people agree to be part of the study, at least at this stage. And then if they're positive, they can get a rapid test or they can go get the PCR before they return to work.

- All right, well, it is fascinating what those dogs continue to do and how they all help us. Truly, man and woman's best friend. Dr. Kenneth Furton, Executive Vice President and COO at Florida International University. Thanks so much and, of course, to Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero.