It's probably not an overstatement at all to say the Washington Wizards have been affected more by the coronavirus than any other NBA team.
They were the first team to experience a major outbreak last season with six of their games postponed in January. Then, star guard Bradley Beal had to exit Team USA just days before the Olympics because of a positive test. And then, during the Las Vegas Summer League, their roster was once again deeply affected by an outbreak, notably preventing point guard Cassius Winston from appearing in a game.
So, while it's a pertinent question for any professional sports team these days, the Wizards' vaccination rate arguably carries more importance as they prepare to enter a new season. Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard addressed the media on Thursday ahead of the team's training camp opening next week and was asked a series of questions about the team's vaccination efforts. He stopped short of specifics to protect players' privacy.
"Everything is great. We have our roster, everybody is fully-educated and fully-informed. We will be in compliance and we're looking forward to the season," Sheppard said. "A lot of that stuff, you're getting into some personal and private information. We're not going to go down that road. But we'll be in great compliance with the NBA and moving forward."
"Fully-educated" is not the same as fully-vaccinated and in response to a follow-up, Sheppard indicated not every player on the roster has been inoculated. The NBA plans to have different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated players this season.
Those who are unvaccinated will be subject to COVID-19 testing on all practice, travel and game days. Vaccinated players will only need to be tested if they display symptoms.
Unvaccinated players will have to wear masks inside team facilities and on planes and buses during road trips. They will also require special arrangements in terms of locker location and social distancing indoors.
Beyond the series of restrictions the unvaccinated will be subjected to, having fewer vaccinated players could also be a competitive disadvantage. Anyone who contracts the virus will have to quarantine and those who are unvaccinated are more likely to have serious symptoms or be hospitalized.
Sheppard, though, did share some encouraging news that the Wizards are at least beyond the vaccination threshold specified by the NBA. That threshold has previously been reported as 85% of players and all staff members.
"I'd say we're well into the 90th percentile. We're pleased with where we're at. We'll continue to push to make sure that we get to wherever we need to be. From the league's standard, we're there now. But it is a slippery thing [because of privacy]," Sheppard said.
"We just make sure everybody is educated and encourage everybody to be vaccinated. But certainly, moving forward, we'll just keep our eyes forward to the season. It's not with any light heart that I say this at all, but we went through a year last year where we learned an awful lot. We had a bumpy summer and we learned an awful lot. We look forward to a smoother transition as we move into this next season."
The vaccination statuses of most Wizards players are not known, though center Daniel Gafford did reveal to NBC Sports Washington over the summer he got the Pfizer shot. That means there is at least one key member of their rotation who has been vaccinated.