MIAMI -- The Miami Heat is allowing a limited number of fans to attend games starting this week --- with the help of coronavirus-sniffing dogs to screen them.
Similar to canines on patrol at airports around the world, the Miami Heat will station specifically trained dogs at entrances to the American Airlines Arena to try to sniff out the virus that causes COVID-19.
Here's the plan: Dogs will sniff fans before they enter by walking past them. If the dog sits, that signals they may have detected COVID-19. That fan will be asked to leave, along with their group, and will be given a full refund.
"Dogs are amazing creatures and their noses are way more powerful than ours," said Matthew Jafarian, the executive vice president of business strategy for the Miami Heat.
Medical specialists point out that research done in this area is exciting but preliminary.
No study has been scrutinized by peer review or tried in a public place like the arena where the Miami Heat will play. And the FDA has not signed off on this method of screening.
Dogs have been used to sniff out possible bombs and some have even detected early stages of ovarian cancer.
They have up to 300 million smell receptors, while humans only have about 6 million -- making dogs uniquely equipped to detect scents humans can't.
"What we're trying to do is find if there is an odor a volatile organic compound basically, that is telling us that there is a difference," said Dr. Cynthia M. Otto, Professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine. "And what we're hoping is that the dogs can figure that out."
But infectious disease experts warn that a traditional COVID-19 test is more reliable and are concerned these dogs could give people false comfort.
"Adding innovative tools like dog sniffing course is really exciting, but it shouldn't give this false sense of security," said Epidemiologist Dr. John Brownstein. "And truthfully, we should be still relying on widespread testing to fully get this pandemic under control."
The Miami Heat will have rapid tests available for anyone who's either allergic or afraid of dogs.
And other COVID-19 protocols remain in place including limited fans to ensure social distancing and a mask mandate.