COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Corporate America is unmasking and ordering workers to return to the office as COVID deaths remain high

February 15, 2022, 11:21 PM UTC

As the number of COVID cases plunge following their peak in January, several major companies including Walmart have decided to lift mask requirements for workers while others, such as tech giant Microsoft, are inviting employees to return to the office.  

Which companies are unmasking? 

After several states—such as New York, Delaware, and Nevada—lifted indoor mask mandates over the past seven days (California will do so on Wednesday), corporations are withdrawing mask requirements for workers. Walmart, the largest private sector employer, said that fully vaccinated workers are free to go maskless in public spaces while working, unless local or state law mandates otherwise, according to The Washington Post. Similarly, Amazon announced last week that it would let fully-vaccinated warehouse employees go maskless, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Major banks that are lifting indoor mask mandates for vaccinated workers include Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase

Which companies are returning to the office?

Microsoft, one of the largest U.S. tech employers, announced a reopening plan in a Feb. 14 blog post that includes ushering vaccinated employees back to the office by the end of the month. Meanwhile, investment bank BNY Mellon said earlier this month that its employees would return to the office on March 7, as reported by The New York Times. American Express also said that employees would return to the office next month for hybrid work, as it had announced in October. Both BNY Mellon and American Express mandate that employees returning to the office be fully vaccinated. 

Latest on the pandemic

Companies look like they’re in a hurry to return to normal, but the pandemic, which has killed 900,000 as of this month, is far from over. The seven-day U.S. daily average of deaths was 2,400 on Feb. 14, according to The New York Times. 

Many European countries have re-evaluated their precautions against COVID, treating it as if it were flu outbreak. But some scientists have warned that the assumption that COVID variants may become milder over time may be false. In fact, a new variant called “Deltacron,” that combines both the Omicron and Delta variants, has been discovered as recently as last month, though some virologists questioned the validity of the finding. Whether the disputed new variant would be more or less severe than Omicron remains unclear.  

The U.S. lags behind other major countries in terms of COVID vaccination rates, and its death rates are “eye-wateringly high,” according to Devi Sridhar, the head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, as reported by The New York Times. Because of factors such as healthcare discrimination in minority communities, rampant health misinformation, and increased medical distrust, Americans have been slow to vaccinate in comparison to other wealthy countries. 

Music festivals and theme parks

Some companies are taking steps to create post-pandemic workplaces, which includes adopting long-term hybrid work models and eliminating indoor mask mandates. However, in doing so, some aren’t following the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations.

The Coachella Music Festival, organized by music and events company GoldenVoice, will not require attendees to wear masks or show proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results when its concert takes place in April. While mask mandates are no longer required in California, excluding Los Angeles County and certain locations such as public school grounds, the CDC recommends people who aren’t fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve continued close contact with others.

Similarly, Disney theme parks announced Tuesday that face coverings will now be optional, both indoors and outdoors. Guests will also not be required to show proof of vaccination. However, the State of California, where Disneyland is located, recommends that all guests be vaccinated before entering theme parks. Also, visiting a Disney theme park could put unmasked guests in close contact with others, which is not in line with the CDC’s recommendations.  

Disney did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. 

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