March 17 (UPI) -- NASCAR officials plan to use trained dogs to detect COVID-19 among essential personnel for Sunday's Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The procedure will be deployed on a trial basis as a potential first line of at-track defense designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. NASCAR said teams were notified of the plan Tuesday.
"We think that these dogs and this capability is going to allow us to rapidly confirm that all of those people entering the essential footprint on Sunday -- that's race teams, that's NASCAR officials, that's the vendors that work inside the garage -- all those folks are COVID-free or not," said Tom Bryant, NASCAR managing director of racing operations.
"The ability to do that has kind of been the math problem that we have continuously tried to solve since March of last year."
NASCAR officials are working on the procedure with 360 K9 Group, which has training facilities in Anniston, Ala., and New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Two teams of dogs will screen essential personnel, determining in less than 30 seconds whether an individual has been exposed to COVID-19. If the virus is detected, the dogs will alert their handlers.
After an alert, the individual in question will be isolated and subject to comprehensive secondary screening by the American Medical Response Safety Team's lead physicians, who will determine their status for Sunday's event in Atlanta.
The K9 unit won't be used to screen Cup Series drivers or the limited number of fans in attendance.
The NBA's Miami Heat started using COVID-sniffing dogs to screen guests and employees for home games in January.
"They are amazing," Bryant said of the trained dogs. "This gives us essentially an ability to test that essential population on race day and know right away that those folks who have cleared this enhanced screening process with a very high degree of confidence are COVID-free.
"We'll learn from what we do Sunday, and we'll figure the ways to best employ this capability moving forward to ensure that we're keeping the population as safe as we can, keeping the least amount of risk in the environment."
According to the 360 K9 Group, clinical studies have shown that dogs can locate the presence of COVID-19 in humans at an accuracy rate of 98%.