Iditarod to require daily COVID testing for race officials and volunteers

A musher gets his nose swabbed for COVID-19.
Dallas Seavey receives a mandatory COVID-19 nasal swab upon arriving at the McGrath checkpoint during the 2021 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. (Zachariah Hughes)

Volunteers and race officials at the 2022 Iditarod Sled Dog Race will be tested daily for COVID-19 and must prove they are fully vaccinated to be in the “Iditarod bubble.”

Those rules and others were announced as part of the latest COVID prevention plan for the 1,000-mile sled dog race that starts in just under two weeks.

Mushers will also have to prove they are fully vaccinated and will have to test negative for COVID three times before the start of the race, plus another time at the checkpoint in McGrath — about a third of the way into the competition. 

Race marshal Mark Nordman said he’s confident the plan will help keep mushers and communities along the route safe. 

“I don’t think you could find a better plan,” he said in an interview last week. 

Race officials and volunteers will wear armbands and ID badges to show that they are part of the “Iditarod bubble” at checkpoints along the trail, according to the race’s 25-page COVID prevention plan.

Those inside the bubble are required to wear face masks when interacting with people outside of the bubble. Mushers should wear masks too, says the COVID plan. 

Nordman said the Iditarod developed the plan with Dr. Jodie Guest, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and professor at Emory University. Guest is also a longtime Iditarod volunteer who helped craft last year’s protocols too. 

Some communities along the race trail have taken additional measures to prevent COVID from spreading.

The community of Takotna, famous for its spread of pies for mushers, decided to not be a checkpoint this year. Instead teams will run 41 miles from McGrath straight to Ophir. 

White Mountain’s checkpoint will also look different. This year, the checkpoint will be in a heated tent on the river, instead of closer to town. Teams still must take an eight-hour rest there before their final 77-mile sprint to Nome.

Nordman said on Friday that trail breakers on snowmachines reported good conditions during their run through the Alaska Range. 

“They were very pleased: Not a lot of bridges to build, good snow in Rohn,” he said “We were really light on snow a week ago around Nikolai — they’ve got over close to 2 feet now. So it looks like we got a great trail all the way to Nome.”

The 50th running of the Iditarod starts with the ceremonial start on Saturday, March 5, in downtown Anchorage. Race officials say fans can attend in person but are asked to wear masks. There are 49 teams currently signed up to race, including last year’s top three finishers.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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