The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will require all participants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this coming March.
The decision, approved Wednesday by the race’s Board of Directors, applies not only to mushers, but also to staff, contractors, volunteers, pilots and veterinarians, according to a news release from the organization.
“We are hyper focused to ensure zero community transmission as we prepare to return to the traditional Northern Route and Nome finish in March of 2022,” the release said.
Last year, in an effort to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spreading to small communities along the usual route, the race took the unprecedented step of not finishing in Nome, instead running out to the Iditarod Mining District before mushers doubled back across the Alaska Range to a finish line on the road system. Checkpoints were also staged outside of communities or sequestered in designated areas to limit the risk of exposure.
The decision to require vaccinations for the 2022 race “was made in concert with feedback from rural Alaska and is reflective of the Iditarod’s broad community health consciousness,” the release said.
Alaska is currently struggling under its worst surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. Transmission rates are spiking across the state, with hospitals operating under crisis standards of care. The governor announced on Wednesday the state will hire 400-500 out-of-state nurses to come help ease strain on health care workers.
The organization will develop a more comprehensive plan for COVID-19 mitigation closer to the March event, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic.
The 2021 race included mandatory virus testing at multiple checkpoints, masking protocols and social distancing measures.
Those measures were largely successful at containing the virus, with no significant outbreaks or evidence of community spread.
This year marks the 50th running of the Iditarod.