Peachtree Road Race organizers Atlanta Track Club will be using dogs specifically trained to detect the scent of a COVID-19 infection to screen participants on race day.
An advisory group made up of doctors, public safety officials and event logistics specialists from Atlanta Track Club has been working on the plan since the fall of 2020.
The Club has partnered with Alabama-based 360K9, a bio detection company whose dogs are able to detect the scent of COVID-19 on an infected person. The dogs have been used by the NBA and NASCAR to safely bring fans back to events.
A participant flagged by the dogs will be given a rapid COVID test at no cost to the participant. If the test is negative, they will be able to proceed to pick up their number. Anyone who tests positive will be offered the opportunity to switch to the virtual running of the Peachtree or given a refund of their entry free.
“The dogs are 99 percent accurate,” Chief Scientific Officer at 360K9 Dr. William Schneider said. “We feel like they demonstrated very good early detection skills and will go a long way toward making the Peachtree a safe race.”
In addition to the dogs, the Track Club is actively encouraging all participants to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they are able and eligible. It is also requiring the Peachtree’s more than 3,000 volunteers be vaccinated. The Club will host a free vaccination clinic at its North Midtown headquarters on May 1 and May 22 open to Club members, Peachtree registrants and Peachtree volunteers.
“Atlanta Track Club really values all our runners’ and walkers’ safety,” Co-Medical Director of the Peachtree Dr. Lekshmi Kumar said. “There’s been so much debating over every single risk factor that we could come across with. We want to make sure it’s as safe a race as possible.”
“It’s worth repeating that our objective this year is not to be the world’s largest 10K,” Peachtree race director Rich Kenah said. “We are hyper-focused on delivering the world’s safest 10K. I want the Peachtree community to understand the efforts we have put into ensuring their well-being while working to bring back a tradition vital to the very identity of Running City USA.”
The very nature of this year’s Peachtree, expanded to two days for the first time in its history, is meant to eliminate crowding and promote social distancing. The social distancing begins at the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo presented by Publix, a four-day opportunity for participants to pick up their race numbers and interact with key event partners.
Expo attendance will be open only to registered participants who will schedule an appointment to come to the expo hall at the Georgia World Congress Center. Designees will be allowed to pick up race numbers but will be asked to follow the same protocols. Upon arrival, those with proof of vaccination will immediately be able to get their race number. Those who are not vaccinated will have to go through a COVID-19 screening process that begins with specially trained dogs.
Unvaccinated participants will again be screened before entering their start wave on race day.
“Vaccinated participants will have a much faster, traditional Peachtree experience,” said Kenah. “I hope every runner and walker who is eligible for the vaccine is able to take advantage of its widespread availability well before July 3 and 4.”
Start waves will be half the size of previous years, allowing each person 36 square feet of personal space while they wait for the race to begin. Waves will begin every 10 minutes to reduce congestion on the race course. There will be hydration stations at every mile, but participants will be able to take individual bottles of water instead of being handed a cup by a volunteer. Participants are also encouraged to bring their own hydration.
At the finish line, participants will find a mask sealed in plastic and attached to the back of their race number. Staff and volunteers will ensure all participants put their mask on once in the finish chute. Finisher’s shirts will be distributed in Piedmont Park, then all will be asked to exit and make their way back to MARTA or their mode of transportation. There are no post-race festivities in the park in 2021 and the park is open to participants and volunteers only.
“It’s been a tough pandemic,” said Dr. Kumar. “People want this to be done. I think slowly starting back up with an event like this brings some normalcy back to their lives. I know a lot of runners are craving to get back out to run with others and this gives them the opportunity to do that in a very safe manner.”
The Club will evaluate safety measures in the months leading up to the event and adjust plans according to the current conditions. That could result in a loosening of restrictions.