As Omicron uncertainty mounts, return-to-office plans are being revised again.
Some businesses are changing their vaccination policies to require booster shots, while others are prioritizing coronavirus tests.,
For many businesses, the start of the year has brought a swift reversal of return-to-office plans as coronavirus case count surge and events are canceled. In recent days, companies from Goldman Sachs to Chevron have begun to backtrack on workplace policies. Some are telling employees to stay home with just days, or even hours, to spare before their planned returns.
As the government pushes to keep the economy open despite record cases — but lower hospitalization and death rates — it raises new questions for businesses preparing for a third year of the pandemic. Some are questioning whether previous precautions like lockdowns and social distancing are still best to keep companies running and workers safe, or whether the new variant allows for a more tailored approach.
“We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science,” Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said recently.
Government policies are shifting. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it was “much more relevant” to focus on Covid hospitalizations instead of total cases, because many infections were asymptomatic, and he was more worried about potential strains on hospital systems.
The C.D.C. has halved its recommended isolation time for asymptomatic infections to five days from 10, a move that raised criticism (and inspired memes), but Dr. Fauci said the agency may revise its guidelines yet again.
And the Biden administration is signaling that it may change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to require booster shots, a prospect that could affect what 140 million Americans can and can’t do in public.
That leaves companies with a lot to consider. Some, like Goldman Sachs, are changing their vaccination policies. The Wall Street bank will require a booster shot for all employees and visitors entering its offices beginning Feb. 1.
Employers will also need to rethink their policies if they want to bring infected workers back to the office more quickly. This makes testing the next big issue, with the Biden administration scrambling to increase supply amid shortages.
Some big firms have been buying tests in bulk to give to employees, but smaller companies may not have similar capacity. Deciding whom to prioritize for tests, who pays for them, and how to verify the results will bedevil many boardrooms in the coming months.
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Goldman Sachs told its U.S. employees on Sunday to work from home for the first two weeks of the year, joining Wall Street competitors that had already given similar instructions as coronavirus cases have surged.
Employees who are able to work remotely should do so until Jan. 18 in response to rising infection rates, the investment bank said in an email to employees. The shift in policy came after the Wall Street firm announced new booster and testing requirements last week, but, unlike many of its peers, did not encourage staff to work from home.
Goldman called most workers back to the office in June, and its chief executive, David M. Solomon, is a strong proponent of working in the office. The bank has 43,000 employees, many of whom are based in its Manhattan headquarters.
New York State recorded over 85,000 new coronavirus cases on the last day of 2021, the highest one-day total in the state since the pandemic began. The Omicron variant has prompted big Wall Street companies, which have been eager to bring back workers, to delay those plans.
Before the latest surge, office attendance had remained stubbornly low as bankers staged a quiet revolt: parents are still concerned about passing the virus to their children, suburban dwellers eschew long commutes and many workers have shown that they are able to be productive while working from home.
As workers trickle back, the financial industry, which employs 332,100 people in New York City, may also have to ramp up its vaccine efforts. Eric Adams, who was sworn in as mayor of New York City early Saturday, said he would maintain his predecessor’s private-sector mandate.
Goldman currently requires people entering its buildings to be inoculated, and starting on Feb. 1, it will require a booster for all employees eligible to receive one. It had already announced that starting Jan. 10, staff coming into the office would be tested for the virus twice a week at on-site testing centers, increasing from a current requirement of once a week.
JPMorgan Chase gave staff flexibility to work from home in the first two weeks of the year, but wants them to return to in-office schedules no later than Feb. 1, according to a memo sent to employees last week.
The bank may also amend its policy on vaccinations, which it has not required so far.
“Government-issued vaccine mandates may likely make it difficult or impossible for us to continue to employ unvaccinated employees, so getting the vaccine is very important,” the memo said. The bank may soon also require a booster shot for people entering its buildings.
Citigroup expanded remote working for its U.S. employees.
“We are asking that you work from home for the first few weeks of the new year if you are able to do so,” the bank said in a memo to staff on Thursday. “We will continue to monitor the data and provide an update in January on when we expect to be back in the office.”
That guidance applied to employees in more than 30 offices around the country who had been called back since September. Employees in New York City and New Jersey were already given the option to work from home in the final weeks of the year.
Wells Fargo has postponed its return to the office, while corporate employees at Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank were given more leeway to work remotely over the holidays.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Deliberations in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, are set to stretch into their seventh day on Monday, with jurors offering few clues about how close they may be to a decision.
The jury of eight men and four women has spent over 43 hours so far deliberating whether Ms. Holmes, 37, is guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. Each fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Jurors have asked no questions of the court since Dec. 23, when they asked to listen to audio recordings in which Ms. Holmes allegedly misled investors about Theranos’s business relationships. They also asked to take jury instructions home, which the court denied.
Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, stands trial for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.
Here are some of the key figures in the case ->
Many high-profile criminal trials — including those of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan Jr., who killed Ahmaud Arbery; Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three men in Kenosha, Wis., in 2020; and Kim Potter, the police officer who killed Daunte Wright — have come and gone since Ms. Holmes’s trial began in September. Last week, a jury found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of conspiring with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.
It is not unusual for deliberations in white-collar trials to be lengthy, especially in complex fraud cases in which defendants are charged with multiple counts that span multiple years. In 2007, a jury took 12 days to convict Conrad Black, a press tycoon, of fraud after a 14-week trial that involved 13 counts. Martin Shkreli, the infamous former hedge fund manager, was convicted of securities fraud after five days of deliberations in 2017 following a five-week trial.
In Ms. Holmes’s case, the jury must sift through 14 weeks of testimony and over 900 pieces of evidence as they decide whether Ms. Holmes intentionally deceived investors, patients and advertisers in the pursuit of investments and business for her blood testing start-up. Ms. Holmes founded Theranos in 2003. She dropped out of Stanford in 2004 and spent the next decade raising nearly $1 billion from investors and signing contracts with Walgreens and Safeway.
But The Wall Street Journal revealed in 2015 that Theranos’s blood-testing devices could perform only a dozen tests, contrary to Ms. Holmes’s claims of over 1,000 to investors, business partners and the public. Theranos officially shuttered in 2018 amid scandal.
For many, the saga represents the worst excesses of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture, where founders regularly stretch the truth in search of fortune and fame. Such founders, however, are rarely prosecuted.
Prosecutors called 29 witnesses as they attempted to prove that Ms. Holmes “chose fraud over business failure,” as Jeff Schenk, an assistant U.S. attorney, said during closing arguments.
The defense’s case rested primarily on Ms. Holmes’s own testimony. She said she believed her own claims and pointed fingers at her senior employees, including Ramesh Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and Theranos’s former chief operating officer. Mr. Balwani, who faces identical charges, is scheduled to stand trial beginning in February.
Trading in the shares of the indebted property developer China Evergrande Group were suspended on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Monday morning as the company raced to deliver apartments to millions of home buyers and raise cash to manage its $300 billion in debt.
Evergrande said in a filing that its shares were halted pending an announcement “containing inside information,” without giving more details. The company had halted its shares once before, in October, as it tried to finalize the sale of a $2.6 billion stake in its property management unit.
That deal ultimately fell through.
The giant property developer entered into default last month after failing to make a final debt payment to foreign investors. The company owes an estimated 1.6 million apartments to home buyers and is facing dozens of lawsuits.
Although Evergrande has yet to solve its cash squeeze, it pledged last week to finish building 39,000 apartments before the end of 2021. The announcement sent Evergrande shares soaring, but they dropped the next day after the company failed to meet another payment deadline on its foreign debt.
On Friday, Evergrande appeared to revise its plan to repay investors in its wealth management unit, promising to make monthly payments of about $1,260 to each investor for three months. It had previously not given a specific repayment amount. In its statement to wealth management investors on Friday, Evergrande said that it plans to “actively raise funds,” and added that the situation was not “ideal.”
At one point, as many as 80 percent of Evergrande employees were asked to put money into wealth management products to help fund its operations. In September, Evergrande employees, contractors and home buyers protested outside company offices and government buildings.
Government officials joined a risk committee created in December to help steer Evergrande and restructure the company.
Elizabeth Holmes trial: Jurors will continue deliberating in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos. Monday will be the seventh day of deliberations. So far, the jury has submitted two questions: It asked whether it could take jury instructions home (no), and it asked to listen to audio exhibits of Ms. Holmes talking with investors.
JOLTS: Economists will get another snapshot of how many Americans are quitting their jobs when the Labor Department reports on the number of job openings in November. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey will not capture any reactions to the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which didn’t begin making headlines until late in the month.
Fed minutes: The Federal Reserve will publish minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting held in December, when officials decided they would cut back more quickly on the central bank’s pandemic-era stimulus as concern about high inflation grew.
Jobs report: The Labor Department will publish hiring data for December. Economists expect that 400,000 jobs were gained and that employers raised wages across the country as they looked to retain and hire workers. But economists will also look at whether the Omicron variant discouraged people from returning to the work force.
In two short weeks, as 2021 closed out, the Omicron variant drove coronavirus case counts to record levels, upended air travel and left gaping staffing holes at police departments, firehouses and hospitals.
And that was at a time when many people were off for the holiday season. Now comes Monday, with millions of Americans having traveled back home to start school and work again, and no one is sure of what comes next.
Most of the nation’s largest school districts have decided to forge ahead and remain open, at least for the time being, citing the toll that remote learning has taken on students’ mental health and academic success. And the rising number of cases has not yet been followed by a proportionate increase in hospitalizations and deaths, though hospitalizations have increased in recent days — a sign that the Omicron variant seems to cause fewer cases of severe illness.
But the highly contagious variant is still racing across the country, and teachers, parents and workplaces are bracing for the impact.
“I figured that over these two weeks of break, everyone has been everywhere visiting everybody,” said Teresa Morrison, 48, who plans to keep her 8-year-old daughter Tristan, who suffers from severe bronchitis, from attending in-person classes in San Antonio. “So I really just anticipate January to be a disaster.”
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has left companies across industries — from meatpacking to retail — with a thinning work force, especially after months of record high resignations. Thousands of flights have been canceled and National Guard troops have been activated to help staff hospitals.
The spiking case counts have also flummoxed the dozens of companies that sent their employees to work from home in March 2020, as Covid was first sweeping the country. Some offices that had reopened advised workers to stay home. Others, including major companies like Apple and Google, have extended their work-from-home arrangements.
In schools, the spread of Covid-19 has been limited, but Omicron has renewed some fears just as a sense of normalcy seemed within reach.
Twitter on Sunday permanently suspended the personal account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, after the company said she had violated its Covid-19 misinformation policies.
Twitter said that Ms. Greene had a fifth “strike,” which meant that her account will not be restored. The company had issued her a fourth strike in August after she falsely posted that the vaccines were “failing.” Ms. Greene was given a third strike less than a month before that when she had tweeted that Covid-19 was not dangerous for people unless they were obese or over age 65, and said vaccines should not be required.
Ms. Greene’s official Congressional account, @RepMTG, remains active because tweets from that account did not violate the service’s rules.
“We’ve been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy,” Katie Rosborough, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Ms. Greene did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Her suspension comes as coronavirus cases have surged again in the United States from the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Twitter has long banned users from sharing misinformation about the coronavirus that could lead to harm. In March, the company introduced a policy that explained the penalties for sharing lies about the virus and vaccines. People who violate that policy are subject to escalating punishments known as strikes and could face a permanent ban if they repeatedly share misinformation about the virus.
The European Commission is moving toward declaring some nuclear power stations and natural gas-fired power plants as green investments, opening them up for infusions of capital as Europe moves away from coal-burning generators in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The landmark proposal would be part of common set of definitions of what constitutes a “sustainable investment” in the European Union. If adopted, analysts predicted, it could unleash new investment money for nuclear power, Liz Alderman and Monika Pronczuk report for The New York Times.
But the proposal is subject to approval by a majority of European Union’s member states, or by the European Parliament, and some lawmakers are challenging the idea that nuclear power or natural gas should be considered green investments, akin to solar or wind power.
A draft legal text circulated in Brussels over the weekend would deem natural gas and nuclear power as “transitional” green energy sources to be used to bridge countries’ moves away from coal toward renewable energy.
“The commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future,” said a statement from the commission, the European Union’s executive body.
Bas Eickhout, a Dutch lawmaker and member of the Green party, said that classifying natural gas as a green investment would mean “the entire climate leadership of the European Union is down the drain.”
The European Union has been working to ensure financial rules support the so-called Green Deal, which aims to make Europe a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050.