ASHBURN, Va. -- A plea about vaccinations from Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera over the weekend appears to have worked. The team continues to increase its vaccination rate, jumping to 84% of its players with at least one shot, a source confirmed.
Washington was just over 70% as of Saturday, when it had to place two more players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including starting right guard Brandon Scherff. After that practice, Rivera made sure the team knew: If that had happened the day before the season opener, and they were not vaccinated, they would miss five days. Because Washington plays its second game on a Thursday, that would cost the players two games.
On Sunday, an off day for the players, Washington had scheduled appointments for those who wanted to be vaccinated. Some took advantage.
"It was a good step in the right direction, and we're continuing to trend up," Rivera said.
The Washington coach has expressed his frustration and disappointment with his team's lower vaccination rate. Before camp, the team was around 60% vaccinated.
On Saturday, they had the 31st rate in the league, believed to be 70%. That would have left them 19 percentage points behind the league average. They're now six points shy of the league average of players receiving at least one shot.
Rivera, who said he was immune deficient after his bout with cancer last fall, has met multiple times with players to discuss their hesitancy over the shot but has consistently said he won't force anyone to get the vaccine. He also said some players were dug in and wouldn't budge off their stance.
Washington had only two players placed on the COVID-19 list last season, and neither was on the 53-man roster at the time.
Some players have already had the virus, including receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. On Monday he said he recently got the shot even though he said he still had antibodies in his system from his bout in spring 2020.
"I wouldn't say anything changed my mind too drastically," Gandy-Golden said. "Just being on the team and just seeing everybody that didn't have [some restrictions] anymore. Obviously I had it before, so I was one of those people, like, 'I already had it. The chances of me getting again are probably slim.' ... But I started reading and seeing Coach bringing these experts in to talk to us. They obviously put a lot of time into this, so it's obviously pretty serious. These older guys are getting it done, and they're not affected."
Players who aren't vaccinated have restrictions placed on them, among them: They can't leave the team hotel on the road; they can't eat in the cafeteria with teammates.
On Tuesday, Washington activated offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas off the reserve/COVID-19 list. He had been on there for the first five days. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis was in uniform after spending five days on the list, but did not participate in group activities. He was officially activated later Tuesday, along with cornerback Chris Miller.
Rivera said he would not use a player's vaccination status as a reason to keep or cut him.
"We know we're going to have guys coming into the regular season that are unvaccinated," Rivera said. "If that's the case, if it comes down to it, we're going to take who we think is the best player that gives us a chance to win. But they also make sure they understand that the protocols are real, what we're going to have them do, the masking, the social distancing. They're going to have to do it, the contact tracing, all that. That's just the way it's going to be. If you're vaccinated, great. And if you're not, you're following the protocols to the dot. The league came out with its penalties. We're going to follow those to the T."
USA Today first reported the improved vaccination rate.