Spectators reach over the barriers to get a closer look as a determined team of sled dogs runs down Main Street in Fort Kent to kick off the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in 2019. Credit: Morgan Mitchell / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races and Northern Maine Medical Center officials will help Canadian mushers maneuver COVID-19 testing requirements to cross back into their country after the competitions.

Canadians have long accounted for a bulk of the mushers who compete in the Can-Am, which will celebrate its 30th year the weekend of March 5. Organizers canceled the event last year due to the pandemic.

International COVID-19 regulations have restricted and even prevented people from crossing the United States-Canada border. As the omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be letting up, both governments are loosening border crossing requirements. Since Jan. 22, non-U.S. citizens entering the United States must present proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Canada will ease its border crossing restrictions just in time for the sled dog races.

Effective Feb. 28, not all of those who are fully vaccinated and returning to Canada will have to be tested for COVID-19. Instead, travelers over the age of 12 will be randomly selected to demonstrate proof of negative COVID-19 test results in order to enter the country.

Those who are randomly selected have the option of presenting results from a COVID-19 rapid antigen test taken the day before or a molecular test within 72 hours of crossing the border.

At-home rapid antigen tests are not sufficient to cross into Canada. The tests must be administered by a health provider or laboratory. Testing backlogs and high numbers of cases have made fulfilling this requirement difficult at times.

Can-Am officials, along with Northern Maine Medical Center, will provide free tests to the international mushers seeking to cross into Canada after the races. The free PCR tests will also be available to one dog handler per registered musher.

“The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race is such an important event in our community. In the last three decades, it has grown into quite a tradition and we felt its absence last year,” said Monica Jerkins, Northern Maine Medical Center director of communications. “We are proud to sponsor it on its return this season.”

She said the important thing is to make sure everyone participating stays safe and healthy, and that NMMC is happy to help the international teams with their testing needs.

Border crossing requirements have so far not deterred mushers from registering for the Can-Am races, committee chairperson Dennis Cyr said.

So far eight of the 20 mushers registered for the 2022 Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 — the longest of the Can-Am races — hail from Canada.

Of the 20 mushers registered for the 2022 Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100, eight are from Canada. And nearly half of the 29 mushers racing the 2022 Pepsi / Native Dog Food Can-Am 30 are Canadian.

“The Canadian mushers are up on the border crossing requirements. Many have been crossing the border and attending other sled dog races in the [United States], so they are well-prepared and already experienced with Canadian regulations,” Cyr said.

Information on the annual event is available at the Can-Am Crown website.