NEW YORK (AP) – For the first time in two years, for many people, the American workplace is becoming something reminiscent of the days before the pandemic.
Tysons Foods said Tuesday it is suspending mask requirements for its vaccinated workers at some facilities. Walmart and Amazon – the country’s largest private employers № 1 and 2 respectively – will no longer require fully vaccinated workers to wear masks in stores or warehouses unless required by local or state law. Technology companies such as Microsoft and Facebook, which allowed employees to work completely remotely, are now setting mandatory return dates to the office after a series of attacks.
“The number of COVID-19 infections has dropped dramatically across the country in recent weeks,” Amazon said in a note. “Along with the increase in vaccinations across the country, this is a positive sign that we can return to normal work.”
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, on Monday announced plans to open its buildings on the West Coast on Feb. 28 with a hybrid combination of office and home work. The parent company Meta Platforms Facebook, which planned to return employees to the office on January 31, will now demand that they return – with evidence of an amplifying shot – on March 28.
This is a serious reversal from a few weeks ago, when the omicron version of COVID-19 peaked, forcing companies to double their mask requirements and perform daily medical examinations while postponing plans to return to the office for remote workers.
Since then, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have declined sharply in the United States. The number of cases dropped from 455,000 a day two weeks ago to 150,000 on Monday. The number of hospitalizations of COVID-19 fell by 45% from a peak a month ago and is now at a level similar to when the country emerged from the delta-variant surge in September. And nearly 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
“I think we’re in a much better position than we were six months ago or a year ago,” said Jeff Levin-Schertz, head of health practice at consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. “We are somewhat better protected than we have been at any time in the past. But the new norm will not be the old one. It will be somewhat different. «
Many office workers will still have to wear masks in the office and undergo regular checkups. Front-line workers, such as store employees and restaurants who are already physically going to work, will have to adjust to colleagues and customers without masks – whether they like it or not.
Megan Chichester, a 48-year-old graphic artist who works for a packaging company in De Soto, Kansas, has received word that she will have to return to the office in April. She has stayed in the office only a few times in the last two years, which makes the prospect of working in the office before the pandemic a little strange.
“I’m glad to see people in person because I missed them. But on the other hand, it’s also a little weird because I’m so used to not being around people that there’s a little bit of concern about that, ”she said.
Anxiety is compounded by the fact that she has seen return dates to the office repeatedly declined over the past couple of years as cases have intensified.
“It’s like you’re getting a whip because you don’t know what month you’re really coming back to,” she said.
Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have waived some of their restrictions as the number of their cases decreases, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not yet ready to tell everyone to take off their masks.
Many businesses – small and large – choose what is best for them based on the attitudes of their customers and employees.
JPMorgan, which began requiring workers to return to the office in one form or another in early February, said the disguise is now voluntary for employees who have been fully vaccinated, except those in cities or towns that still require it; unvaccinated workers will still need to wear a mask. A similar policy was announced by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley in their offices in the US.
Brian Anderson, marketing manager at a food supplement store outside of Chicago, said they have been under a state-mandated mask since last August. But once Illinois repeals the Feb. 28 mandate, they won’t require customers to wear masks.
“Our customer base is more focused on fitness and definitely not wearing a mask,” he said. Store employees may wear a mask, but it is not required.
On the contrary, Jeff Moriarty, co-owner of Gem Art Moriarty in Indiana, says they will continue to ask customers to wear masks even if his state has not had a mandate since 2021. His business provides masks and hand sanitizers at the entrance.
“The reason for this is that our store employs senior colleagues, and our owners are over 65 years old,” he said. “We understand that some customers will prefer not to wear a mask, but we will continue to use this as a recommendation.”
Companies that have introduced their own vaccination requirements for staff should also be aware of the changing dynamics associated with the virus.
Supreme Court last month knocked down a federal nationwide mandate in the workplace but companies are allowed to meet their own requirements, and many keep them in place. Others, like Starbucks, have decided to resign after a high court decision.
IBM software engineer Justin Albana said his company recently notified employees that it was denying access to badges to workers who were not vaccinated or proved they were.
“At this time, we cannot enter IBM’s office,” said Albana, who works remotely from his home in New Jersey but is still expected to receive the vaccine. He said some workers had successfully sought religious exceptions, but “my thought process was that I didn’t need to explain my faith to my company” to get out of a policy “immoral in nature.”
IBM did not immediately return a request for comment regarding the status of vaccine requirements.
AP authors Heather Hollingsworth, Tally Arbel, Mae Anderson, Ken Sweet, Matt O’Brien and Dean Ann Durbin of Detroit contributed to this report.
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