When will the offices open? | The New Yorker
In early June, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that in September most employees would be required to work at least three days a week at the company’s corporate campus in Cupertino. “Video conferencing has reduced the distance between us, that’s for sure,” Cook said, “but there are things he just can’t duplicate.” Cook may have been inspired by Google, which announced a few weeks earlier that it expected more than 60% of its workforce to be active in the office starting in early fall. Wells Fargo, headquartered north of Apple and Google in downtown San Francisco, also announced in the spring that employees would begin returning to the office in September.
From a public health perspective, these plans made sense. As of June 1, the seven-day average of COVID cases had risen from a peak of around two hundred and fifty-nine thousand in January to around seventeen thousand, and vaccines had become widely available. But then the cases started to rise again. As of August 1, the seven-day national average of coronavirus cases has risen to nearly eighty thousand, and businesses have started to postpone fall openings. At the end of the summer, Apple announced that its employees would not be required to work in the office until January at the earliest. Google has extended its remote work program until at least January 10. Wells Fargo originally said it would only delay reopening until October, then November, before finally landing on New Years as its current target as well.
It’s understandable that Cook felt apprehensive about opening the doors to Apple’s 12,000-strong headquarters when CNN aired footage of overcrowded intensive care units, but the blur surrounding these late decisions was surprising. The new reopening dates that companies like Apple are setting are clearly meant to be tentative, but their announcements do not provide further details on the specific measures they are monitoring and what numbers they should see for the new plans to be. opening hold. An email from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, simply said, “We will allow countries and locations to determine when to end voluntary homework based on local conditions.
Given the challenges, both in terms of health and logistics, employees deserve to know more about the goals that employers are trying to achieve with their office closure policies and the measures they are using to guide their work. reflection. Right now, too many workers are waiting for leaders to speak out, like a groundhog seeking its shadow, whether offices are safe or must remain closed for another six weeks. Even the seeming generosity of receiving thirty days’ notice to return to the office is insufficient if, for example, you have grown closer to your family during the pandemic and now need to decide when to return, or if remote flexibility ends. requires you to organize an after school daycare. And it’s not just employees who are affected by this unpredictability. A recent History of SFGate quoted Leilani Mason, owner of a bar in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood that serves employees of nearby tech companies. Mason said she spent thirty thousand dollars to open at the end of July. “Then the offices pushed back their plans to reopen,” she said. “We don’t have happy hour customers and we bring in our staff, but there is no one to serve. “
These delays in opening offices are of course not the first time during this pandemic that we lack clear guidelines on when to resume operations. In April, infectious disease specialist Monica Gandhi co-wrote a trial in Washington To post who attempted to define what measures would safely lift the mitigation strategies. Gandhi and other authors of the article — Syra Madad, an epidemiologist who helped lead the New York City study COVID and Ashish Jha, the dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, proposed a measure based on hospitalizations: when the number of patients hospitalized with COVID fell comfortably below the number of influenza hospital patients at the height of an average season, there would no longer be a public health justification for maintaining strict disease suppression efforts.
As Gandhi explained, the main motivation for this clarity is psychological. “Coming back and forth is very frustrating for people,” she told Agence France-Presse. She then tweeted: “The metric-based restrictions allow an end point in sight for those who want relief and a sense of greater normalcy.” Gandhi has become one of the main proponents of an “off the ramp” approach to public health interventions. To better understand what this strategy would look like for offices, I called Gandhi, who, in addition to her new role as a public health commentator, practices medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, near where Apple, Google and Wells Fargo just happen to be based.
Gandhi mentioned three possible options for reasonable measures that could guide the reopening of the still closed offices. The first was the per capita hospitalization threshold originally proposed in his trial for the To post. “We have proposed five hospitalizations per 100,000 people,” she said. “But, now that we have better treatments, it should be seven to ten percent thousand.” The second option was the local transmission rate. In July, when the CDC reintroduced recommendations for indoor mask warrants, the agency tied its suggestions to a four-point scale determined by the sum of new cases reported in the previous seven days. If an area scores in the first two categories, labeled “low” and “moderate,” then indoor mask warrants for vaccinated individuals are not recommended. Gandhi suggested that once a region approaches the moderate threshold, it should definitely be safe to assemble a highly vaccinated workforce inside an office.
His last option was more daring: the Danish model. In September, Denmark cited the country’s high vaccination rate as the reason for dropping almost all COVID restrictions, including allowing offices and schools to operate in a normal situation before the pandemic. “The epidemic is under control,” said Magnus Heunicke, the Danish Minister of Health. Denmark’s goal is not to eliminate the spread of the coronavirus but to treat it as endemic, which means that it should continue to spread but, due to the strong immunity of the population, not to tax the health system. As Gandhi explained to me, this is also the inevitable end point of our own pandemic: “Even the United States will have to accept endemicity. We don’t have high enough immunity everywhere to make it a reasonable national policy at the moment, but, in areas that have already achieved high immunization levels, Gandhi thinks it would be safe to open offices.
Interestingly, San Francisco arguably responds to Gandhi’s three reopening measures. The city’s health department currently lists fifty-four COVID patients in its hospitals, which is below its threshold hospitalization rate of seven to ten patients per hundred thousand inhabitants. At the same time, the number of new cases in the city has dropped significantly since August and is approaching the CDC’s moderate threshold. Finally, San Francisco can boast an admirable vaccination rate: seventy-five percent of residents are fully vaccinated. This is better than the 71% threshold at which Denmark announced the transition to a policy for the management of endemic diseases. “How would Apple be right now if they were open and there were no masks but everyone was vaccinated?” Gandhi speculated. “Not much would happen. “
The main point here, however, is not to claim that offices in San Francisco, or any other particular region, should already be open. There are other very reasonable measures that would support the continued closure. Perhaps, for example, a company would like transmission to stay at the CDC’s moderate level for at least two weeks before changing its policy. It might also be wise to mix public health parameters with other concerns. A business can specify a set of metrics that indicate when it’s safe to open, and then note that while the region in which it operates currently meets those metrics, the business will still wait until January to reopen its offices, to give people time to adjust. And some companies might make remote working options permanent for reasons unrelated to public health. The key is not the specific outcome of those decisions, but rather the clarity on how they are made.