A large number of OU staff and some players have received the COVID-19 vaccine, head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters in a Zoom press conference on Thursday.
Riley’s announcement comes exactly a year after the first Oklahoman died of COVID-19 on March 18, 2020. According to The New York Times, over 2.1 million doses have been delivered to the state of Oklahoma and over 1.5 million vaccine shots have been administered.
“I would say it’s been a hot topic around here,” Riley said. “And we've been very fortunate, obviously, to live in a community where the vaccinations have been pretty available and so many people across the community and groups have gone to far lengths to make that available.”
Earlier this spring, OU’s staff and medical team held conversations with the team about the vaccine. Such conversations were not held to persuade players to get vaccinated, Riley said, but rather to offer them more information about the vaccine itself. Riley expects more of his players to receive their vaccination dose by the end of spring.
Last season, the OU athletics department administered over 5,000 COVID-19 tests from July to December, which saw 244 student-athletes and 41 staffers get and recover from the virus during that span. Oklahoma’s regular season was shortened from 12 to nine games, with matchups against Tennessee, Army and West Virginia canceled due to COVID-19 related reasons.
The Sooners’ season also saw only five games played at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and in front of crowds of no more than 113,000 people. At the OU Board of Regents meeting on March 5, university president Joe Harroz said OU is planning to hold home games at full capacity in 2021.
Harroz said that plan is subject to change as the university continues to "follow science" and monitor COVID-19 cases. Still, Riley is remaining optimistic that a return to normalcy is around the corner.
“(A vaccine) creates a sense of reality for us, without a doubt,” Riley said. “People are going to be more conservative in an offseason as far as the threshold to shut something down, I mean, we get that. But, at the same time, we can't have some false sense of security that this thing is over and we can just go back to not wearing masks, or not distancing, or not doing any of that. We're still harping on it (and) the thing for us is, the staff and the players both agree how critical this offseason and spring ball period is for us.
“If we put ourselves in a position where we have to shut down, we're putting ourselves at a major disadvantage. We’re gonna hurt guys’ growth as players, we’re gonna hurt our growth as a team. So, we have to stay the course. And some of the examples across the country certainly are things that we can use to point to, and hopefully we can learn from without having to experience ourselves.”