Iditarod plans for 2021 race amid coronavirus pandemic

Staff are ordering dozens of Arctic Ovens in case they have to bypass villages during the race.
 Mitch Seavey on the trail near Elim, far in the Iditarod lead. (Tracy Sabo / KTUU)
Mitch Seavey on the trail near Elim, far in the Iditarod lead. (Tracy Sabo / KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 5:03 PM AKDT
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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) -The Iditarod is still several months away but staff are already working on plans to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO Rob Urbach said that means a multi-tiered approach depending on how widespread the virus is in March 2021.

He said the Iditarod is ordering dozens of Arctic Oven tents to house staff and volunteers on the trail in case the race has to bypass villages.

Coronavirus cases started to increase in the United States during the 2020 race. Checkpoints like Shaktoolik were shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. The mushers' banquet was also canceled out of concern for people’s safety.

Long-time volunteer Jodie Guest is an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University. She’s the Iditarod’s “COVID Tzar” and will help with planning the race.

“[She’ll] be carrying a rapid test kit. All the veterinarians will be trained to swab or there may be a saliva test we’ll be using,” Urbach said.

He said the goal is for the race to cause zero community spread cases. For that to happen, there are a lot of logistics to figure out along the 1,000-mile trail to Nome.

“It’s not just during the race it’s more on planning. For example, how do we do our meal service with volunteers? You can’t just order a big pizza anymore, so individualized lunches. And how do you manage that, how do you manage our sleeping arrangements? How do you manage our travel?” Urbach said.

The Iditarod is also figuring out how to hold the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage which usually brings out thousands of people.

“With having corrals and additional fencing and having boxes that are limited by people,” Urbach said. “So it’s going to take a lot more. More fencing, more people, more security and, in general, more social consciousness.”

So far there are 61 mushers signed up for the 2021 race, including six champions.

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