New C.D.C. Mask Guidance Complicates Return-to-Office Plans
Two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was okay for people vaccinated to forgo masks indoors, the agency reversed the course on Tuesday, saying Americans should hand back masks – to less in areas with high coronavirus infection rates.
The official guidelines – influenced by research on the Delta variant, which is causing an increase in the number of cases and “breakthrough” infections in those vaccinated – target places where the virus is thriving. Right now, that covers nearly two-thirds of US counties. According to the guidelines, all Florida residents, vaccinated or not, should wear masks indoors.
The announcement complicates return-to-office plans for many companies at a time when the Delta variant is already forcing some of them to push back their start dates. Asana, a software company, told employees last week that it was pushing back the return date for all employees in San Francisco and New York to February 1 at the earliest, a person familiar with the situation said. . The company also imposes vaccinations on all employees who enter the office.
Businesses that have already opened their doors must decide whether to forgo masking policies. When the CDC lifted its masking guidelines in May, many companies released new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated employees and customers to return without a mask. The move was a big push for workers, as well as a signal that the pandemic was drawing to a close. For the employees, it provided a sense of security and normalcy when they returned to the office.
Walmart, which began allowing fully vaccinated employees to skip masks in May, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did a spokeswoman for Kroger, who also reduced her masking restrictions.
In New York, financial companies have already started recalling workers. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, which allow fully vaccinated employees to skip masks, have not commented on the CDC’s announcement. A spokeswoman for American Express said the company had “no updates to share” as the company had not yet returned to the office.
“People are enjoying their freedom, so I don’t know if we’re going to go back or not,” said Alana Ackels, employment lawyer at Bell Nunnally. She added that after the CDC’s advice in May, her phone “kept ringing because everyone wanted to get rid of the mask.” Tuesday night, after the agency’s overthrow, “I didn’t get a single call about it,” she said.
MGM Resorts International, the casino and hotel giant, said on Tuesday it would require all guests and visitors to wear masks indoors in public areas, “based on the latest information and expert advice from health and civil servants “.
The National Retail Federation, which represents businesses on the front lines of managing and enforcing public masking policies, said in a statement that “retailers will continue to follow CDC guidelines.” while the safest known way to reduce the threat of the virus is generalized vaccination. “
CDC move could boost more corporate vaccine mandates, said David Schwartz, who heads the task force at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. This might be a better alternative to “forcing employees and customers to wear masks and not being able to maintain a consistent policy,” he said. The Washington Post on Tuesday joined a short but growing list of private companies requiring vaccination as a condition of employment.
If companies think immunization mandates are beneficial, “we encourage them to do it,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.
Government officials recently imposed mandates on vaccines at state, local and federal levels and encouraged private companies to follow suit. President Biden is evaluating a vaccination mandate for the two million federal employees and is expected to deliver a speech Thursday on the matter.
Kellen browning and Sarah kessler contributed reports.
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