COVID-19 has caused significant damage to the economy. In terms of the political aspect, countries all over the world have struggled to manage the spreading virus, thus imposing lockdowns in almost all areas of the world.
But as the world slowly adapts to a new normal, one problem still persists – hosting large crowds. For concerts and sports events, 2020 has been a slow year. With digital concerts becoming the new norm and sports being held with no audience, the world is slowly shifting towards creating new ways to manage the pandemic.
Between all of this has come the Super Bowl LV which was held in Tampa in early February 2021. Over a 100 million people were estimated to watch the game live, but only 22,000 were allowed to be in attendance to watch the event unfold at Raymond James Stadium. Among the measures taken to ensure that the Super Bowl remained COVID free and followed all SOPs was the idea to employ virus sniffing dogs.
Since only 7,500 of the people in attendance were vaccinated, social-distancing and other measures were essential to ensure that there was no spread of the virus during the event. However, since many people are asymptomatic carriers of the virus, it was essential to enforce a new plan.
The Miami Heat had announced that they will be screening all attendees using COVID-19 sniffing dogs – a kind of science that has long been used in detecting drugs and explosives for large events. Dogs have also been trained in the past to detect medical conditions such as certain types of cancer, indicating that the use of dogs to sniff the coronavirus may just be an effective measure after all.
The reason why this works has been supported by science. In terms of scent receptors, dogs tend to have up to 60 times more receptors than the average human. Since infections in the body lead to a release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in humans, the odor may just be detectable by dogs even if humans are unaware to the scent. When properly trained, dogs can detect the coronavirus simply by smelling a person.
Two studies conducted in 2020 currently support this claim. The first was conducted in Germany where they trained eight dogs to detect the COVID-19 virus from hospitalized patients. They were then tested by being exposed to both positive and negative samples, where the canines were successful at a rate of 94%. While this research gave way to a new method of virus detection in the world, critics were quick to argue that the dogs may have just learnt the specific scent of hospitalized patients with COVID, and thus would not be as effective on a non-clinical population.
The second study focused on whether dogs would be able to detect the virus simply from the sweat of patients. By collecting swabs from the underarms of patients with COVID-19 and normal people, the dogs were made to sniff the sweat and indicate whether or not the person had the virus. The success rate of this study showed promising results, with each dog being successful in detecting the virus between 76% to 100% of trials.
As a result of these studies, many airports across the world had begun to train dogs to detect the virus and used them to screen passengers who were travelling.
Whether or not these COVID-19 sniffing dogs are effective is still under question. But if they are, then these dogs may just be able to provide a solution to screening thousands of people before entering a designated place, such as a concert or a sports event.