Heinicke's addition leaves the team without its top two quarterbacks against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game that has been postponed to Tuesday due to the outbreak. Heinicke's backup, Kyle Allen, was placed on the reserve list Wednesday, but there is a chance he could be cleared depending on the results of further testing.
Washington signed quarterback Garrett Gilbert off the New England Patriots' practice squad as insurance. Prior to the game being postponed, Washington coach Ron Rivera said he and the staff would meet Friday and Saturday before settling on a starter.
Rivera said Gilbert's game experience -- one start, seven appearances and a total of 44 passes -- will be weighed against practice squad quarterback Kyle Shurmur having been in the system since being signed to the practice squad Sept. 13. Washington also signed Jordan Ta'amu to the practice squad earlier this week.
"I know [Shurmur] is a smart, young man," Rivera said, "If that's where we have to go ... we have a plan for that. If we go with a more veteran guy in Garrett, we have a guy that knows the system and played last year, some meaningful snaps with Dallas."
Washington (6-7) plays at Philadelphia (6-7) in a game pivotal to both teams' playoff chances. Washington owns the seventh and final spot in the NFC with four games remaining.
Asked if the team has been in touch with the NFL, Rivera said they have just been monitoring the situation, adding they were hopeful that a handful of the players on the reserve/COVID-19 list could be returned to the active roster over the next 24 hours.
"It's a tough situation, tough set of circumstances," Rivera said. "This is not by our doing. It's unfortunate the way it came about. But we have to wait and see what happens and abide by what we have to do."
Gilbert has deep ties to the Washington coaching staff. He was on the Raiders roster for two years when Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was the head coach and played for coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Carolina in 2017-18.
Gilbert said he was bathing his daughter at their home Thursday when his wife handed him his phone. He saw there were around 25 messages. By 11:30 p.m., he had arrived in Ashburn.
"I think it's next, next, next man up," Gilbert said. "I don't know how many nexts there are. What's happening here and across the league, as other teams are dealing with stuff, there's some extraordinary circumstances."
Gilbert's lone start occurred for the Cowboys last year, a Week 9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He said while the situations aren't completely comparable, the Cowboys experience did offer lessons on how to handle a quick turnaround.
"Not everything is going to be perfect and 100% smooth," Gilbert said.
Earlier this week, Washington signed Ta'amu, who started ahead of Heinicke for the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL in 2020.
Washington's roster has been ravaged by the coronavirus this week, though almost all of the players have been vaccinated and multiple players reported no symptoms.
Compounding the situation, wide receiver Terry McLaurin and third-down back J.D. McKissic are in the concussion protocol and had been listed as questionable to play prior to the postponement. Rivera said he was optimistic that McLaurin would be cleared in time to play Sunday.
As of now, Washington has four of its original five starting offensive linemen, running back Antonio Gibson and two of its original top three tight ends. Defensively, Washington is without six of its top seven linemen and two starting defensive backs.
Backup center Keith Ismael was taken off the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.