With the omicron COVID wave receding, businesses and states are loosening up on protocols. The nation’s top two employers, Walmart and Amazon, are dropping mask requirements for fully vaccinated workers unless state and local laws mandate masks. Companies such as Meta and Microsoft that have allowed remote work the past two years are setting dates to return to the office.
“There has been a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases across the country over the past weeks,” Amazon told workers in a memo obtained by the Associated Press. “Along with increasing vaccination rates across the country, this is a positive sign we can return to the path to normal operations.”
It’s great to feel like life out in public is returning to some semblance of normal, but we’ve also seen this before. With more than 250 million Americans having received at least one vaccine dose (213-plus million are fully vaccinated) and millions of others with antibodies from recent infection, it would be great if this proves the time that COVID drops in severity from pandemic to endemic. But it will be several weeks at least before we can know. In the meantime, every hint of a new variant will threaten to disrupt life again.
Case counts have dropped to a third of what they were two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are down to 45% of their mid-January totals. States such as New York, California, Illinois, and New Jersey are lifting or easing mask mandates.
“I think we are in a much better place than we were six months ago, or a year ago,” Jeff Levin-Scherz, an executive in the health practice of consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, told the AP. “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.”
Somewhat different is something we’d all eagerly take, so long as it’s not followed by another wave in the coming months.