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The mask debate rages on

August 19, 2020, 9:43 AM UTC

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Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

How important is it to wear a mask at work?

According to the French government, it’s very important indeed. People working in French offices and factories will, from September 1, be obliged to wear masks in all shared and enclosed spaces—unless they’re working alone.

Unions had been pushing for the move, due to fears about worker safety. The timing is intended to help France keep its economy open while dealing with the September reopening of schools and the return of thousands of people who have been vacationing in other countries.

Plenty of European countries now mandate masks on public transport and in shops, but it is still rare to see governments making them compulsory at work.

The U.K., for one, does not seem set to follow in France’s footsteps. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that evidence shows most infections take place in the home, so “we are not currently considering” a workplace mask mandate.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has once again reiterated his opposition to masks being forced on the population as some kind of game-changer. “Face masks can be a complement to other things when other things are safely in place. But to start with having face masks and then think you can crowd your buses or your shopping malls—that’s definitely a mistake,” he told the Financial Times.

Tegnell often seems to swim against the tide of COVID consensus, particularly in Europe, but it’s certainly not a bad idea to see masks as part of a wider palette of measures for protecting people during the pandemic.

So, as this mask debate rages on, what should employers do?

Particularly where workers are in direct contact with the public, they could start by listening to Harvard Law School’s Sharon Block and the Ford Foundation’s Rachel Korberg, who have written a wise piece for Fortune that advocates for frontline workers to be given a voice in the reopening of the economy.

“Workers have a key role to play in designing and implementing new, on-the-job health practices—and even more so in the absence of enforceable federal standards,” they write. “If they aren’t able to speak up when they spot a problem, we risk prolonging this crisis, deepening the economic pain, and ultimately losing more lives.”

More news below.

David Meyer


Postal Service

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has suspended reforms at the United States Postal Service until after the election, following an outcry against the potential impact of those reforms on mail-in voting, which will be a popular choice during the pandemic. The move came yesterday, as 20 Democratic states announced plans to sue. So, for now there will be no changes to retail hours at post offices, no removal of collection boxes and processing equipment, and no closure of mail-processing facilities. CNN

S&P high

The S&P 500 ended yesterday on a new high of 3389.78; its previous record was 3386.15 in mid-February. The peak-to-peak period, which included a historic plunge, was just 126 trading days. That makes for the fastest-ever recovery from a bear market. However, many are struggling to reconcile this with the on-the-ground reality of the pandemic and the unemployment it has caused. Wall Street Journal

China talks

President Trump said he cancelled last weekend's planned trade talks with China because "I don't want to talk to China right now." Trump described China's handling of the pandemic as "unthinkable" in terms of its impact on the world. As for whether the U.S. will pull out of its phase-one deal with China, Trump said: "We'll see what happens." South China Morning Post

Mass testing

The British government plans to introduce regular mass testing for COVID-19. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said various new, fast tests were being trialed, and the rollout would take place towards the end of the year. Reuters


Business Roundtable

It's a year since the Business Roundtable revised its stance on corporate purpose, de-emphasizing shareholder returns in favor of stakeholder interests. In a piece for Fortune, Richard C. Shadyac Jr. CEO of the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), writes that the pledge is now even more urgent than it was then. "As we move forward post-COVID-19, I urge corporations to stay committed to the pledge and partner with charitable organizations to help build a better tomorrow for all," he writes. Fortune

Office space

Amazon seems set to buck the trend of tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, encouraging remote working in the coming years. Amazon is in fact expanding its physical offices and adding 3,500 corporate jobs in New York, Phoenix, Detroit, Denver, Dallas and San Diego. Workforce development VP Ardine Williams: "The ability to connect with people, the ability for teams to work together in an ad hoc fashion—you can do it virtually, but it isn’t as spontaneous. We are looking forward to returning to the office." WSJ

Big Tech

The New Yorker has an interesting profile of Marietje Schaake, a Dutch former member of the European Parliament, who is now teaching at Stanford. Schaake, a liberal in the European sense, has spent much of her career trying to rein in Big Tech. Now she is on its home turf at a time when her ideas no longer seem as outlandish as they once did. New Yorker

Belarus turmoil

The recently "re-elected" Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who just days ago claimed new elections would take place over his dead body, has responded to a growing protest movement by saying he will support new elections and a power handover after a constitutional referendum. Reuters

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.