After months of steady progress, with vaccines being given, Main Streets reopening and homebound consumers leaping at the chance to get back out there again, the Delta variant of COVID-19 has come to call, with 49 out of 50 states reporting a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
While this viral deja vu, so to speak, has plenty of familiar similarities, it also has its own unique set of challenges and variables that are falling upon a pandemic-weary public that is both more prepared — but less compliant — than 18 months ago.
Evidence is mounting that the new surge will start to exert a real drag on the recovery process as it unfolds into the late summer and early fall, when the current surge is expected to peak. One sign of a setback came care of Twitter on Thursday (July 28), with news that it will be shutting down its New York City and San Francisco office locations effective “immediately” a mere two weeks after reopening them for business.
Twitter is not alone in Big Tech phasing back or modifying reopening plans in response to the surging figures, as it is looking increasingly like recovery is taking something of a detour.
Big Tech’s Big Slowdown, With Vaccines Required
Apple got the ball rolling last week, announcing plans to delay its planned office reopening from September to October at the earliest. Apple’s Human Resources and Retail Chief Deirdre O’Brien told employees they would be given a one-month lead time announcement before the return to the office.
Google, as of Wednesday, had followed suit, as a blog post from CEO Sundar Pinchai confirmed that the company has officially delayed its return to the office until mid-October. And Google went one step further, announcing that “anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated.”
Google isn’t the only big name in tech officially moving to require vaccines: Facebook has also announced that employees returning to their offices must report with proof of vaccination in hand to gain access to their office space.
“How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations. We will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves,” Lori Goler, Facebook’s vice president of people, wrote in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether Google and Facebook will remain alone in requiring vaccination for employees. Apple and Amazon have said little on the topic. Only Microsoft has explicitly said it will not require vaccination for employees, though it strongly recommends it.
And As Goes Big Tech…
The Big Tech firms officially pulling back from in-person working is notable, but as their earnings this week indicate, the move is probably not very concerning, given how well they’ve proven they can function with a nearly fully remote workforce.
However, as we’ve seen this week, with San Francisco requiring proof of vaccine or a recent clean test to enter its bars, the renewed sense of concern about the spreading of COVID-19 runs the risk of keeping consumers home from more than just their offices.
As PYMNTS data has shown for the last nine months, when consumers feel their safety is on the line, they more likely than not will just stay home. Consumers, however, do want to go out, as demonstrated by surging sales in places like malls over the last few months — which means merchants are under pressure to make sure they feel safe in stores.
It’s why Disney is going back to its mask mandate for park-goers this week, and it’s why restaurants nationwide are making like San Francisco bar owners and requiring proof of vaccine or negative tests to enter and order. Merchants are hoping to keep consumers safe and, perhaps as critically, feeling safe while they are out.
Whether the strategy works — or whether, if faced with having to wear masks and present proof of vaccine, consumers will decide to postpone going out for a while longer — remains to be seen.