The Return To More Normal Operations During Waning COVID

Large and small businesses alike have been moving into a new phase of relaxing the rigid COVID restrictions on operations of the past two years since the onset of the global pandemic. There is a cautious move toward normalized business operations underway as business owners, staff, and consumers still strive to figure out what to expect through 2022. But, across the national business sector, there has been an increasing return to more regular business routines. Just this month, there has begun a reluctant migration of people and laptops from home couches back into business offices and a tentative return of children to daycare.

Consumer Spending (January – February 2022)

There was an exciting 3.8% jump in U.S. consumer sales in January 2022, up from the December 2.5% drop. With that increase, the country outperformed market forecasts, according to a Reuters report. But, a celebration was not in order, as sales fell 3% for February. So, whether the gravitation of businesses toward normal operations is in sync or not with consumer expectations and their own responses to this stage of the pandemic remains to be seen. Consequently, how the demand for retail portable restroom rental service will be affected in the upcoming Q2 is unclear. The COVID Delta variant and its surging infection rates in February complicate short-term planning for March and the spring.

COVID Infections (January – February 2022)

In February, COVID-19 infections in the United States plummeted from the astronomical 2-year high of 455,000 back in January to 150,000 in mid-February. The latter number is reminiscent of the earliest days of the virus back in late March of 2020. COVID hospitalizations have dropped 45% over the same weeks. Today, the CDC reports that around 69% of U.S. Americans are now fully vaccinated.

So, all the key numbers are currently improving quite significantly. Commensurately, more and more workplaces throughout the country are transitioning back to modes of functioning that are increasingly similar to work life as it was before the rise of the pandemic.

Strategic Business Planning During Waning COVID

Forecasting for the remaining quarters of 2022 is fraught with COVID concerns across the U.S. consumer economy and healthcare industry. On the list of worries is the unclear risks of fading immunity from booster vaccinations. That will become more apparent only as 2022 wears on. In the meantime, business owners and the public are suspended in a state of waiting, and all continue looking hopefully to the foremost medical experts leading on COVID.

Meanwhile, businesses and the public struggle to decipher the signals from the rapidly changing situation. Such signals include, for example, the truly staggering statistics on the soaring virus spike in February and the sharp rise and immediate deep fall of consumer spending through the first two months of Q1. Business planners face the head-spinning task of reconciling these fluxing circumstances into cohesive roadmaps for implementing strategies through 2022.

Slow Walking Toward Normal Operations

As we try to process the competing perspectives on how to manage workplace health in this environment, viral infection-rate statistics, and the January-February consumer market performance, one thing is clear enough: U.S. business and the public are slowly returning to pre-COVID work practices.
Amazon: Management reportedly has announced to its vast workforce in a memo that due to the sharp nationwide drop in COVID cases during recent weeks and the higher vaccination rates, these positive signs mean the company can get back on track toward normal operations.

Walmart: The largest private employer in the country is discontinuing its requirement for fully vaccinated employees to wear masks in stores and warehouses except where state or local laws require them.
Microsoft: The company has been working almost entirely remotely during the pandemic. But, after multiple starts and stops on plans to discontinue operating that way, they’ve now issued required dates for at least some staff to revert to working at least some hours in the office.

Facebook: Meta had plans to have staff coming back to work in the office by the end of January, but now has set the required return date to the end of March, and is requiring workers to provide proof they’ve received the booster shot.

Tyson Foods: The world’s second-largest producer of the most common meat products consumed in the U.S. recently announced that it is discontinuing mandatory masks for vaccinated workers at some of its facilities.

These positions represent dramatic changes from the general direction of the business community only some weeks ago when the Omicron variant infection rates were climbing to their peak. At that point, companies were increasing their emphasis on mask requirements, enforcing frequent testing, and pushing back plans for bringing remote workers back onsite.

One worker’s experience characterizes the national situation: An employee who has been working remotely during the pandemic reportedly told U.S. News & World Report that she received a notice advising that she must return to working in the office this April. She has seen such orders canceled repeatedly over the last two years when cases declined then surged. She reportedly said, “It’s kind of like you’re getting whiplash because you don’t know what month you’re really returning.”

A New Normal in the World of Waning COVID

By many accounts, the emerging new normal can’t be expected to be like the pre-COVID normal. For example, numerous office employees will be required to continue wearing masks and have regular COVID testing. Many retail store employees and food service staff who have remained in the workplace throughout the pandemic will have to adapt to a work environment filled with maskless coworkers and customers, even while COVID remains a concern.

One Walmart employee reportedly expressed to U.S. News, “Most workers are worried about the mask requirement going away.” He went on to say, “It’s not over. It’s going to be here for a while, so we need to, you know, take precautions. You never know if another variant is coming, which is very possible.”

Some states, such as New York, have dialed back their restrictions as COVID cases drop. However, the CDC has not determined that it’s time for the country to take off the masks. Amid the uncertainties and conflicting directives between businesses, between states, towns, workers, neighbors, and even between family members, business planners are striving to pace their teams and absorb every new dashed expectation.

So many businesses, from the largest to the smallest, are making their way through the recent weeks and months of COVID by figuring out what’s in their best interests more based on the read they’re getting on the perspectives and attitudes of their own workers and customers. They seem to be finding those inputs to be more accurate for navigation than what their industry or neighboring businesses are doing or even the predictions from COVID science authorities.



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