For the first time in two years for many people, the American workplace is transforming into something that resembles pre-pandemic days.
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.
"There has been a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases across the country over the past weeks," Amazon told workers in a memo. "Along with increasing vaccination rates across the country, this is a positive sign we can return to the path to normal operations."
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, on Monday announced plans to open its West Coast buildings on Feb. 28 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 Jan. 31, will now require them to return — with proof of a booster shot — on March 28.
That's a stark 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. 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.
"I think we are in a much better place than we were six months ago, or a year ago," said Jeff Levin-Scherz, an executive in the health practice of consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. "We are somewhat better protected than we were at any point in the past. But the new normal isn't going to be the old normal. It will be somewhat different. "