New C.D.C. mask guidance complicates back-to-office plans.

By Lauren Hirsch

Two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was OK for vaccinated people to forgo masks indoors, the agency reversed course on Tuesday, saying that Americans should put masks on again — at least in areas where the coronavirus infection rate is high.

The official guidance — swayed by research on the Delta variant, which is causing rising case counts and “breakthrough” infections of vaccinated people — is aimed at places where the virus is surging. At the moment, that covers nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties. Per the guidance, all residents of Florida, vaccinated or not, should wear masks indoors.

The announcement complicates return-to-office plans for many companies at a time 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 its return-to-office date for all employees in San Francisco and New York to no earlier than Feb. 1, a person familiar with the situation said. The company is also mandating vaccines for all employees coming into the office.

Companies that have already opened their doors must decide whether to retrench on masking policies. When the C.D.C. lifted its masking guidance in May, many companies issued new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated employees and customers to return without masks. The move served as an important incentive for workers, as well as a signal that the pandemic was winding down. For employees, it provided a sense of safety and normality in returning to offices.

Walmart, which began to allow fully vaccinated employees to go mask-free in May, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did a spokeswoman for Kroger, which has likewise reduced its masking restrictions.

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