Massachusetts law enforcement officials are using four-legged officers to detect COVID-19 the same way they search for heroin, explosives and other dangerous items.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office announced its K-9 coronavirus detection team on Thursday, saying it was the first law enforcement group in the country to use trained dogs to detect the virus.
“Bristol County and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have come a long way since the pandemic began last year,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said in a statement. “Today, festivals take place, restaurants are full and concert halls are crowded. We’ve made so much progress, and our new COVID-19 detection program is a way for the people of Bristol County to stay ahead of the game. “
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Like drugs and guns, COVID-19 has a unique scent, which two dogs from the sheriff’s office are trained to find. The dogs – Huntah and Duke – graduated from training on Wednesday. They are half-siblings born two weeks apart with the same father but different mothers, officials said.
The detection program was developed by the International Institute for Forensic Research at Florida International University, which used a similar program for dogs detecting fungi in crops and adapted it for the detection of COVID.
The school is using dogs to detect COVID-19 on its campus.
“It’s science,” Sheriff Captain Paul Douglas said. “This program was developed by CRF professors, doctors and scientists, and we couldn’t be more proud or thrilled to be running it here in Bristol County. “
As part of the training, the CRF used medical masks worn by COVID-19 patients. An ultraviolet system was used to kill the contagious part of the mask while leaving the scent behind. The Sheriff’s Office is working with the New Bedford Fire Department and EMS providers to acquire masks worn by COVID patients for future use in training.
Dogs can also detect advanced variants such as the Delta variant.
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“It’s best to think of it as a decontamination tool,” said Douglas. “Dogs can detect the COVID scent on a counter or table if it has been recently touched by a COVID-positive person, or even detect the scent on a handkerchief used by a person with COVID. “
Over the next few months, Huntah and Duke will also be trained in locating missing people.