Massachusetts schools deploy dogs to detect coronavirus

A Massachusetts school district has invited two new police officers to patrol its buildings, only these cops have four and they detect Covid-19.

A pair of specially-trained dogs, 14-month-old labs named Huntah and Duke, began their training in May 2021, and now roam the halls of schools in the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District.

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office worked closely with Florida International University to train the dogs, said Jonathan Darling, the agency’s public information officer.

The two were trained similarly to how narcotic dogs are, Darling said. Trainers took a mask which had been worn by a person who tested positive, and after using a UV light to kill the virus, the mask was cut into pieces and placed in a plastic bag, to help the scent become imprinted on the dogs.

Covid causes metabolic changes, which in turn produces a specific odor, according to FIU research, allowing for dogs like Huntah and Duke to be another way to help stop the spread, Darling said.

Another study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found dogs could detect Covid after six to eight weeks of training. In the preprint study, six dogs were able to accurately identify Covid 82-94% of the time.

While early results appear promising, it is likely too early to know whether Covid-sniffing dogs could actually be used as a tool to fight the pandemic in the real world.

“This could be compromised by the density of individuals in crowded spaces and whether well-ventilated external spaces, where odours are rapidly dispersed, compromise the ability of the dogs to detect individuals with low levels of infection,” Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

The dogs come to the schools weekly and work to detect cases in empty classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums. If Covid is detected, the authorities tell the health nurse who relays the information to the people affected.