MIAMI – The Miami Heat are bringing back some fans, with help from some dogs.
The Heat will use coronavirus-sniffing dogs at AmericanAirlines Arena to screen fans. They've been working on the plan for months, and the highly trained dogs have been in place for some games this season where the team has allowed a handful of guests – mostly friends and family of players and staff.
Starting this week, a limited number of ticket holders will be in the seats as well, provided they get past the dogs first.
“If you think about it, detection dogs are not new,” said Matthew Jafarian, the Heat's executive vice president for business strategy. “You've seen them in airports, they've been used in mission critical situations by the police and the military. We've used them at the arena for years to detect explosives.”
The first Heat game with ticket holders is set for Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Heat will keep attendance under 2,000 for now, or less than 10% capacity.
The coronavirus-sniffing dog idea has been put into place at airports in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Helsinki, Finland, in recent months. At Heat games, fans arriving for the game will be brought to a screening area and the detection dogs will walk past. If the dog keeps going, the fan is cleared; if the dog sits, that's a sign it detects the virus and the fan will be denied entry.
If a fan is allergic to, or afraid, of dogs: the Heat are offering an option to skip the dog screening and submit to a rapid antigen test instead. The Heat say those tests can be processed in less than 45 minutes.
The move comes at a time where some arenas in Florida – such as Amalie Arena in Tampa, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and temporary home of the NBA's Toronto Raptors – are not allowing any fans, despite doing so earlier this season.
It also comes during a month when the NBA has postponed 19 games because of virus-related issues such as positive tests or multiple players on a team being flagged by contact tracing. And this weekend, the entire University of Michigan athletic department announced it was pausing activities after several positive tests for the new COVID-19 variant that transmits at a higher rate.