Since the Iditapod left off, after Brent Sass’s epic first Iditarod victory, teams have continued to arrive in Nome, including a fun race for 3rd and 4th place, two Yukon-Kuskokwim mushers in 5th and 6th, an impressive 7th place finish for a second-year musher and a Nome local coming home to finish in 8th before stepping away. We’re also going to step away, but not before we answer another listener question and bring you one last Dog of the Day.
Alaska Public Media’s Lex Treinen caught up – just in the nick of time – with Brent Sass, who mushed into White Mountain and a mandatory eight-hour rest in the lead, in a great position to win his first Iditarod.
With the northern lights dancing above, we talked to Iditarod leader Brent Sass as he danced through the Ruby checkpoint and onto the Yukon River, skipping a gourmet five-course meal in favor of more comfortable cold temperatures for his dogs. We’ll also hear more from Sass and his fellow competitors on their 24-hour layover earlier, and from the back of the pack, a trio of women, who banded together in a snow storm. Plus we have a dog profile and THREE listeners asking the same question, with an answer straight from the musher in question and a separate listener… answer?
The 2022 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicked off Saturday in Anchorage with its usual fanfare, after not holding a ceremonial start in 2021. Alaska Public Media reporters Casey Grove, Tegan Hanlon, Lex Treinen and Jeff Chen were out in the snow with the mushers, dogs and race fans, including plenty of kids and other trailgaters.
A joint House-Senate council of the Alaska Legislature voted on Thursday to pay per diems during the legislative session scheduled to start next week.
The payments to lawmakers from outside of Juneau supplement their salaries and cover their living expenses during the session. They receive $293 per day.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy had vetoed the payments in June. He said it didn’t make sense for legislators to receive the money until they’ve resolved the future of permanent fund dividends.
In December, he proposed restoring the $2 million in per diem funding in a bill that supplements the current budget. But that bill would also pay an additional $1,215 PFD, to make up for the difference between last year’s dividend and the amount he proposed. Legislators expressed concern last year that larger dividends would require drawing more than planned from the permanent fund.
The Legislative Council voted 12 to 1 to transfer money from capital funds to the Legislature’s account for salaries and allowances.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman voted for the transfer. He said delaying it would hurt some legislators.
“A reduction in per diem – or not paying, getting per diem started right away – really disadvantages those legislators that actually bring their families to Juneau,” he said. “And I think it’s really essential for some of the families that do have kids that we have those representatives and senators with us.”
Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton was the only council member to vote no. She said the transfer wasn’t needed to pay per diems because the Legislature could pass the governor’s supplemental bill.
She also has supported the governor’s plan to pay larger dividends.
“There are also other things in that supplemental that should be taken care of immediately as well,” she said.
The council plans to refill the capital funds if the supplemental bill passes.
Legislators can receive roughly $35,400 in per diems for a 121-day session, in addition to salaries of $50,400.
The State Officers Compensation Commission is scheduled to discuss a proposal on Tuesday that would increase lawmakers’ salaries to $64,000 while cutting their per diems to $100. The combined change would decrease the overall amount of money that lawmakers take home. If the commission approves the changes, they would go into effect next year unless the Legislature votes to block them.
After the vote, an internet outage disrupted the council meeting. The council plans to meet again before the session starts to discuss the COVID-19 safety rules for the Capitol building.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not adding a testing requirement to its isolation guidelines for people infected with COVID-19 who want to end their isolation after five days.
Despite pressure from health experts who advocated for adding a testing requirement, the agency is standing by its original guidance that a negative test is not needed for people who are fever-free and whose symptoms have improved.
Those who contracted the virus can end their isolation after five days while continuing to wear a well-fitting mask for an additional five days.
The CDC did include additional information for people who want to take a test before ending isolation, but it did not say people should get tested.
According to the CDC’s updated guidance, the agency recommends that if an individual has access to a test and wants to test, the best approach would be to use an antigen test toward the end of their five-day isolation period.
If the test result is positive, then an infected individual should continue to isolate until Day 10, according to the CDC. If the test result is negative, officials said the person can end isolation but should continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others both at home and in public until Day 10.
The agency also released a brief explanation of the science behind their decision, noting that studies suggested that a small percentage of people (25%-30%) were self-isolating for a full 10 days.
“Although many people have intentions to self-isolate, both isolation and quarantine are challenging; especially in the context that many infections are asymptomatic,” the CDC said.
Still, the agency stressed the importance of mask-wearing, as modeling data showed that about 30% of people remain infectious five days after receiving a positive test.
On Monday, the U.S. reported a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — with numbers that probably include cases from the holiday weekend.
The seven-day daily average for infections is hovering at nearly 500,000 per day.
Last week, the CDC shortened the number of days a person who tests positive for COVID-19 should stay home, down from 10 days to five — followed by another five days of mask-wearing.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement about the change. “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
News of the shortened isolation period prompted a backlash from public health experts, who urged the agency to require a negative rapid test to end isolation.
The Biden administration, which has come under pressure for not increasing the widespread availability of at-home tests, has rolled out a plan to set up federal testing across the country.
In addition, government officials say they will buy a half-billion at-home test kits and mail them out, with deliveries starting this month.
A camouflaged Santa whirled into Buckland on a funny-looking sleigh this year. As part of its annual Operation Santa Claus, the Alaska National Guard delivered 261 presents to the community in northwest Alaska on December 14. Santa says he’ll drop off 360 gifts to Chevak after the holidays and once weather conditions allow.
Azara Mohammadi, tribal liaison for the Alaska National Guard, coordinated with the Native Village of Buckland and Chevak Native Village to organize and shop for gifts. The Salvation Army made the purchases, and volunteers wrapped gifts that began their journey to the two predominantly Alaska Native communities at the start of the month.
On December 2, 24 Guard members boarded a C-130 plane loaded with 631 presents. The gifts were offloaded in Bethel and Nome, where they would be stored until delivery to the two communities. The Chevak-bound presents are still in Bethel, as of Christmas Eve.
Joseph Sallaffie, a sergeant with the Active Guard Reserve in Bethel, said Operation Santa helps the communities a lot during the holidays. “Yesterday, me and my wife went to the local store here to look for some water and Gatorade, and we just had a hard time getting cases of water, so imagine if Bethel stores are having a hard time, imagine what the village stores are going through.”
Dana Rosso, a public affairs specialist with the Alaska National Guard, said Operation Santa began in 1956, when St. Mary’s Mission was hit with spring floods and then a drought – impacting subsistence fishing and hunting. Rosso said the Air National Guard flew in donated gifts and supplies to help residents that year.
Rosso said Operation Santa recipient communities are identified by Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management as communities that have experienced particular hardship that year. The tribes in Chevak and Buckland could not be reached by time of publication.
No Guard members wore masks on the trip to Bethel and Nome, but Rosso said service members selected for the mission came from the same unit and office area, in order to lower the risk of Covid transmission. December 2, the day of the initial Operation Santa flight, was also the national deadline for Air National Guard service members to be vaccinated. Rosso said he did not have current vaccination numbers for the Alaska National Guard.
“This means a whole lot since, like I mentioned, Covid-19 and hard times – this means a whole lot, Sallaffie said. “It’s kind of hard for them to enjoy a Christmas like it used to be, but with all this, it makes a difference.”