Alaska readies for 2021 Iditarod with virus preps

The Associated Press
Created: September 25, 2020 04:01 PM

The world's most famous sled dog race will go forward in 2021, and officials are preparing for every potential contingency now for what the coronavirus and the world might look like in March when the Iditarod starts.  

It's not the mushers that worry Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach; they're used to social distancing along the 1,000 mile trail.  

The headaches start with what to do with 1,800 volunteers and staff needed to run the race, some scattered in villages along the trail between Anchorage and Nome, and how protect them and the village populations.  

The Iditarod got some on-the-fly training last March. When the race started March 7, people were still shaking hands and not wearing masks. By the time the race ended in mid-March, some villages asked that mushers not to stop in their communities and most public buildings in Nome, where the race ends, were closed.

"It's really reworking how we do everything because we work with a lot of communal meals and sleeping. And we just won't be able to do that going forward. In fact, we readjusted on the fly during last year's race as the pandemic exploded in March after we were halfway through and we had probably the healthiest Iditarod that anyone can remember," Urbach said.

He said they are developing criteria for testing protocols and will adhere to whatever is the standard determined by state of Alaska health officials at the time of the race. That could include masking up or possibly requiring people to be vaccinated if there is a vaccine by then and it's recommended.

Other changes may include support staff being pared down to the bare minimum and traveling pods of four to maintain a bubble. It may mean volunteers sleeping outside in warmed tents instead of stacking 12 people cheek-to-jowl in a small cabin in a village checkpoint.

The look of the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage, which normally attracts hundreds of fans, might be smaller as people may have to social distance. It may mean few or no spectators at the Nome finish.

It also might mean bypassing villages altogether.

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The Associated Press

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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