Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Covid vaccination recommended but not required for Iditarod 51

Riley Dyche wears a mask during the
ceremonial start in Anchorage, Alaska.
March 5, 2022.
Iditarod released a statement to fans, mushers, and media this weekend with an update to their Covid-19 Policy ahead of the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. After three years of ever changing plans (sometimes mid-race) to keep villages as well as participants in the race safe, the Iditarod has chosen to walk back some of the previous year's policy on what will be required of mushers in March. 

When Covid-19 broke in the US in 2020, the Iditarod was days into the race. In "the race bubble" where the outside world isn't even a thought, mushers and most volunteers had no idea what the rest of the world was dealing with. The first time teams - especially those in the lead - found out things had gotten bad "out there" was when race officials had to inform teams that checkpoints were changing or being done away with entirely to prevent possible exposure.

When the pandemic continued past a year and into 2021, everyone held their breath to figure out what Iditarod would do. The ITC worked diligently with the villages and came to the conclusion the safest thing to do was to run what would be called the Gold Trail Loop, a similar trail to what Joe Redington originally invisioned for the race before deciding to go to Nome. Teams ran to the ghost town of Iditarod and back staying away from most villages, and not allowing villagers into checkpoint areas in other. Vaccines were still up in the air for many and so quarantining pre-race was the standard requirement with testing every few days. 

In 2022, Iditarod required all mushers, personnel, and volunteers to be vaccinated by January 1 to be able to participate - there would be no exceptions. This caused several well known names to withdraw due to their stance on the vaccine or for medical reasons that kept them from being vaccinated. The race ran from Anchorage to Nome but bypassed the popular checkpoint of Takotna by request from community leaders who just could not take the chance of exposure. 

For participants in the 2022 race there was frustration over the written policies. It seemed to never be fully finalized and questions continued all the way up to race day and beyond. To see that the 2023 policy is still being worked out fully has given volunteers pause. Still, knowing that vaccination status would not have to be given has gotten many excited in Alaska and volunteer numbers could possibly increase from the last two years.

With a smaller roster so far for the 2023 race, fans often asked if it was the possible continuation of the vaccination mandate that was keeping teams from entering. While that does not appear to be a deciding factor for most, it could allow teams like Jessie Royer and Wade Marrs the opportunity to come back to the race they have been top contenders in. Neither is currently signed up for the 51st running of the race. Mushers must sign up by November 30 to make sure they do not have to pay a higher fee for late sign ups. Volunteer sign ups should begin sometime in November.

What do YOU think about the latest changes to the policy? Comment below with your thoughts.
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