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Police in a Massachusetts county announced this week that they are the first in the country to have a K-9 unit that can detect COVID-19.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Thursday that the “four-legged officers,” who can sniff out drugs, weapons, and explosives, can now add COVID-19 and its variants to their detection arsenal after months of training.
“This elite unit can add another distinction to its mantle: The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office is the first law enforcement organization in the US to have canines trained to detect COVID-19,” the statement said.
COVID-19 has a distinct odor, and two 9-month-old canines, Huntah and Duke, were trained to detect it through a program created by the Florida International University’s International Forensic Research Institute (FIU), according to the statement.
The dogs underwent odor detection training with materials that included face masks previously worn by patients who tested positive for the virus, according to the sheriff’s office.
“An ultraviolet system was used on the masks that kills the contagious portion but leaves the COVID odor, making it safe for the canines and officers to use as training tools,” the statement continued.
Capt. Paul Douglas, whose partner is Huntah, said the new skill was similar to “a decontamination tool.”
“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.
The dogs are available by request across Bristol County schools, nursing homes, and other public facilities, the department said.