Western Alaska Was Right To Worry About Covid; Iditarod Musher Tests Positive At McGrath

 Minnesota Musher, Gunnar Johnson, Has Covid While In The Race  Typical start of Iditarod Race (Journal Photo)  Strict rules about Covid on ...

 Minnesota Musher, Gunnar Johnson, Has Covid While In The Race 

Typical start of Iditarod Race (Journal Photo) 
Strict rules about Covid on the Iditarod Trail haven't kept mushers free of the disease. Musher Gunnar Johnson was tested at McGrath, and found to be positive only two days into the competition. 

The race this year has rules that mushers had to test negative 3 times before the race began. Then all mushers were tested again at McGrath, which is around a third of the way along this year's trail. One musher, Gunnar Johnson, has been found to be ill. 

Gunnar Johnson has been isolated from the other mushers in a tent at McGrath, and then tested twice more after his initial test. He failed all three tests. 

The Iditarod is now doing contact tracing to see who Johnson came into contact with when mushers stopped at different villages along the route. 

The race itself celebrates an epidemic. The original event was not a "race" but a volunteer mission of mercy to a Native community on the distant Alaska coast. The original trail to Nome through Iditarod was a mail route from the Alaska Railroad near Nenana. Local rural mushers relayed diphtheria serum up the route in 1925, saving people there from a serious, deadly epidemic. The Iditarod Serum Run was a nationally-known event, celebrating Alaskan selflessness and courage.

This year, the intense, friendly interaction between Native villagers and Iditarod Race mushers has gone by the wayside. Usually, children and adults turn out in droves, forging strong friendships with mushers.

But this year there's been mandatory mask-wearing, flimsy overnight tents out on the tundra, isolation from the local communities, and a complete redesign of the race. This year the Iditarod Race doesn't go to Nome at all. It turns around at Iditarod and comes back down the same trail.

Western villages at the end of the trail: Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling, Eagle Island, Kaltag, Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain, Safety and Nome are not on the trail this year to protect themselves from Covid. 

Their vigilance seems to be well-founded. 

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