NEW YORK -- For the first time in two years for many people, the American workplace is transforming into something that resembles pre-pandemic days.
“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. “
Many office workers will still be required to wear masks in the office and get regularly tested. Front-line workers like store clerks and restaurant staff who were already physically going to work will have to adjust to maskless colleagues and customers — whether they like it or not.
Then there are the old realities of their pre-pandemic routines: dealing with rush-hour commuter traffic, putting on dressier clothes again and working alongside co-workers for the first time in two years.
Megan Chichester, a 48-year-old graphic artist who works at a pa...