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Minnesota musher out of Iditarod after testing positive for COVID

Organizers say Gunnar Johnson, 52, of Duluth, Minnesota was withdrawn from the event at the McGrath, Alaska, checkpoint.
Credit: AP
The Ophir checkpoint of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is is seen in an aerial view Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Zachariah Hughes/Anchorage Daily News via AP, Pool)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Organizers say a veteran Iditarod musher from Minnesota was removed from the race Wednesday after he tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The organizers say Gunnar Johnson, 52, of Duluth, Minnesota, was withdrawn from the event at the McGrath, Alaska, checkpoint.

Race Marshal Mark Nordman, working with epidemiologist Dr. Jodie Guest, made the decision to remove Johnson, who is asymptomatic, based on the rules set in the race’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. 

Iditarod officials say Johnson is incredibly disappointed and felt his dog team looked great. Johnson had 14 dogs racing with him. After the positive test, the musher was removed from the checkpoint area and taken off the trail.

The world's most famous sled dog race started Sunday, with this year's edition seeing a number of changes forced by the pandemic. The Iditarod will be shorter this year, only 860 miles instead of a thousand. This will also be the first time in race history that the finish line won't be in Nome. Instead, mushers will go to the ghost town of Iditarod and loop back to the Anchorage area for the finish.

All mushers are undergoing vigorous COVID-19 testing before and during the race, and anyone who gets a confirmed positive test is out of the race. And most of the rural Alaska villages traditionally on the race route will be bypassed for safety reasons, leaving mushers to sleep in tents.

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