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As U.S. COVID Cases Finally Begin to Wane, Companies Are Returning to More ‘Normal’ Operations

As U.S. COVID Cases Finally Begin to Wane, Companies Are Returning to More ‘Normal’ Operations

For the first time in two years for many people, the American workplace is returning to something that resembles pre-pandemic days as several large companies began removing their strict COVID protocols. COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen 45% from the peak one month ago and are now at levels similar to when the country was coming out of the Delta variant surge in September. And nearly 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Tysons Foods said Tuesday it was ending mask requirements for its vaccinated workers in some facilities. Walmart and Amazon (the nation’s No. 1 and 2 largest private employers respectively)  will no longer require fully vaccinated workers to don masks in stores or warehouses unless required under local or state laws. Tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook that had allowed employees to work fully remote are now setting mandatory dates to return to the office after a series of fits and starts.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, announced plans on Monday to open its West Coast buildings on February 28th with a hybrid mix of working in the office and home. Facebook parent Meta Platforms, which had planned to bring workers back to the office on January 31st, will now require them to return with proof of vaccination and boosters on March 28th.

Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have retreated from some of their own restrictions as their case counts decline but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not quite ready to tell everyone to take off their masks.

It seems like a sudden reversal from just weeks ago, when the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was peaking, prompting companies to double down on mask requirements and enforce daily health screenings while delaying return-to-office plans for remote workers. The U.S. has since seen COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations plummet. Cases have plunged from 455,000 a day two weeks ago to 150,000 on Monday.

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Many office workers will still be required to wear masks in the office and get regularly tested. Front-line workers like store clerks and restaurant staff who were already physically going to work will have to adjust to maskless colleagues and customers whether they like it or not. And businesses — small and large — are figuring out what’s best for them based on the attitudes of their customers and workers.

JPMorgan, which started requiring workers to return to the office in some form in early February, said that masking is now voluntary for employees who are fully vaccinated, except for those in cities or localities that still require it; unvaccinated workers will still need to wear a mask. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley announced a similar policy in their U.S. offices.

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