NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — If you’re looking for a COVID-19 test and quick results, some dogs might be able to help.
Local K9 training organization AK9I will offer free COVID-19 testing outside Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News on Saturday, Feb. 12.
13News Now previously shared how AK9I spent the last year, in partnership with hospitals and healthcare leaders, training dogs to smell and detect COVID-19 positive samples.
The screening will be available to the community through a drive-up clinic, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the surgical pavilion of Mary Immaculate Hospital.
James Overton, a trainer at AK9I, said he found out through training and blind trials that saliva samples from people with COVID-19 have a different smell.
The dogs will alert when a swab sample is positive.
Over the last year, Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital patients and staff members voluntarily provided positive and negative samples to see if dogs could effectively identify the virus.
AK9I reports the dogs passed tests with at least 94% accuracy, and under review of a double-blind peer review board, the dogs correctly identified every sample that was positive for COVID-19, with no misses or false indications.
"This gives the dogs the opportunity to not only give back to the community but for the community to see the value the dogs will bring," said Jan Phillips, VP of nursing at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital.
Phillips, who had collected voluntary swab samples to provide for the research and development of the program, said she’s ready to see the innovative approach in action.
"The dogs are very accurate, I’ve been highly impressed as we watch the training process go about. It’s amazing really," Phillips said. “I think it would be really cool for the patients in our community who did provide them to come back and see what they’ve been able to help us get to.”
Overton said AK9I started testing to see if dogs could detect COVID-19 positive samples out of curiosity, but leaders now see a place for this type of testing outside of big events like concerts in the future.
"The speed that the dogs are able to do this, it allows us to be able to do large venues that have a high concentration of people in close proximity to each other rather quickly," he told 13News Now.
For the clinic, people will stay in their car and swab their cheek with gauze, hand the gauze to the trainer, and receive their results later in the day through a QR code or app on their phone.
There's no interaction with the K9s, as they will be smelling the samples provided. The clinic is first-come, first-served and open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. unless supplies run out.
Through a release, AK9I said: "COVID Detector Dog teams represent a new and exciting way to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, and offer a faster, more cost-efficient method to conduct health screening for potentially infected individuals."
Phillips said the program, while unique, represents a willingness to look at potentially innovative public health solutions that could help curb the spread of the virus.
“It fits with our mission to be able to serve our community in whatever capacity we can," she said.
AK9I said it partnered with the Eastern Virginia Healthcare Coalition, Bon Secours and Sentara Healthcare throughout research and development, with three dogs passing the trial program.