Wall Street titans beating the “back-to-your-desks” drumbeat have just been dealt a potential setback by the Centers for Disease Control.
On Tuesday, the national public health agency reversed its previous guidance on mask-wearing for vaccinated people — saying it now recommends face coverings in all public settings for anyone in a COVID hot spot.
That means masks indoors for anyone working in an area deemed at “high” or “substantial” risk of coronavirus transmission. New York City, the heart and soul of Wall Street, is currently considered to have substantial risk of transmission as the more highly contagious Delta variant spreads.
The new guidance, which marks a major change from the CDC’s mask guidance issued in May, comes as Wall Street chieftains — from JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon to Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon — push for their workers to return to the office with rules that allow vaccinated people to ditch the face coverings.
Goldman Sachs ordered the vast majority of its workers to return to its Hudson River headquarters back in June. JPMorgan implemented a return-to-work schedule for its workers earlier this month.
Morgan Stanley’s hard-charging chief executive James Gorman, meanwhile, has told staffers that if they don’t return to the office by Labor Day, they could face a pay cut.
“If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office,” Gorman famously declared last month.
Now, the banks could be forced to rethink the effort, especially if NY state and city officials use the opportunity to issue a mask mandate. NYC councilman Mark Levine, for example, tweeted his plug for a mask mandate moments after the CDC’s announcement — albeit to mixed reviews on Twitter.
Reps for Goldman, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley say they are watching the situation
“The firm is monitoring the situation closely … and is prepared to change policies should conditions change,” Morgan Stanley said, citing COVID case counts, public health authority recommendations and local jurisdiction mandates.
Employees, however, say they are not pleased about the prospect of being forced to wear masks all day at work. “No way am I wearing a mask,” one New York-based hedge fund manager told The Post.
And some suggest the rising caseloads are already hindering the return-to-work effort.
“The Delta variant is making it hard for all firms to put their foot down on requiring return to office more aggressively,” one high-ranking Wall Street exec told The Post. “Officially, we are fully open to the vaccinated. Unofficially, there are a lot not yet back full-time.”
It’s hard to say whether the CDC’s new guidance combined with rising Delta cases means banks will start letting more people work from home again. But experts say the changing tides place all employers pushing workers to return to the office in a tough spot.
“Employers will have to be flexible,” Chris Whalen of Whalen Global Advisors tells The Post. “September return for most companies will be voluntary. Finding talent is tough.”
Not everyone agrees that Wall Street will so easily back down, however.
Said Wells Fargo banking analyst Mike Mayo: “With or without masks, Wall Street is back to work. It’s a matter of keeping up with the Goldman’s. You have no choice but to compete equally and aggressively.”
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