The Bristol County Sheriff's Office in Massachusetts is the first law enforcement agency in the country to implement a K-9 unit with canines able to detect COVID-19.
"Today, festivals are happening, restaurants are full and concert venues are packed," said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson in a statement published Thursday. "We've made so much progress, and our new COVID-19 detection program is one way the people of Bristol County can stay ahead of the curve."
Huntah, a 9-month old female black lab, and Duke, a 9-month-old male golden lab/retriever mix, are the two canines that have now joined the Bristol County K-9 unit after completing a COVID-19 detection training program developed by the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University.
The program, which uses masks worn by COVID-19 positive patients, kills the virus with an ultraviolet light, leaving the smell of the virus for dogs to detect.
The canines are then trained to sniff out the virus odor, or detect the change in metabolism of a person infected with COVID-19 without the risk of infection, making the program safe for dogs during the training process.
With this training, the dogs are able to detect the coronavirus with over 90% accuracy, Dr. Ken Furton, provost and executive vice president at Florida International University, told ABC Radio's "Perspective" podcast in February.
"More than nine times out of 10, when the odor is there or a positive mask is there, the dogs alert and they get very few false positives," Furton said. "So they're very, very accurate, actually more accurate than even PCR testing in the laboratory."
According to the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, Huntah and Duke will be used to detect the virus in schools, town buildings, nursing homes and medical facilities. Captain Paul Douglas sees these two new additions to the K-9 unit as a "decontamination tool" to keep these spaces safe against the virus.
"The dogs can detect the COVID odor on a counter or table if it was recently touched by a COVID-positive individual, or even detect the odor on a tissue used by someone with COVID," Douglas said.
With this detection program developed by scientists, trained dogs will be able to detect all variants of COVID-19, including the delta variant.
"This is all science," Douglas said during a canine graduation ceremony on Wednesday. "This program was developed by professors, doctors and scientists at FIU, and we couldn't be more proud or excited to execute it here in Bristol County."