COVID-sniffing dogs deployed in Alameda County

(KRON) — COVID-19 virus detecting dogs are being deployed into some Alameda County health centers.

“Scarlett, a three-year-old yellow labrador and medical detection dog, along with her canine coworker Rizzo, were working their tails off and making friends recently at Park Bridge Rehabilitation & Wellness,” Alameda Health System officials wrote.

The dynamic dog duo is part of a pilot program for identifying cases within the county’s health centers. The adorable dogs received warm reactions from clients and staff members who were sniffed at Park Bridge Rehabilitation & Wellness.

(Image courtesy Alameda Health System)
(Image courtesy Alameda Health System)

“We were excited to partner with Early Alert Canines (EAC) for this pilot and our residents and staff loved the opportunity to pet and socialize with Scarlett and Rizzo after the testing,” said Luzviminda Lukban, an associate administrator at the rehab.

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The yellow labs are trained to sniff near an person’s feet, ankles, or lower leg. If they locate the COVID scent, Scarlett and Rizzo will alert their handler by quickly sitting down.

Health officials said the yellow labs’ noses can detect “volatile organic compounds associated with COVID-19. Scarlett and Rizzo have undergone rigorous training with an average accuracy detection rate of 94 percent, health officials said. The dogs can sniff-test approximately 300 people in 30 minutes.

Park Bridge residents and staff members were pre-screened to ensure they were not allergic to or afraid of dogs. Scarlett and Rizzo are accompanied by humans who administer COVID-19 antigen tests if needed.

In 2021 EAC partnered with the California Department of Public Health in a program to train and deploy COVID detection dogs in Bay Area schools. The next phase will focus on vulnerable populations in skilled nursing facilities.

The cost to train each dog is about $50,000 and can take up to a year.

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