IBM Closes New York City Offices Amid Rising Covid-19 Cases

(Bloomberg) -- International Business Machines Corp. is temporarily closing its offices in New York City amid rising Covid-19 cases in the Big Apple, but the company stopped short of delaying plans to reopen other U.S. locations by September.

Employees were notified on Wednesday that New York City offices will be open for essential staff only, an IBM spokeswoman said in a statement, citing “current clinical conditions” that “do not meet IBM’s health and safety protocols.”

IBM’s decision comes as the delta variant spurs companies to re-evaluate return-to-work plans as infections spike across the country. New York City’s health department reported 1,820 new Covid cases on a seven-day average as of Aug. 16, almost three times as high as its July 16 report of 607. Daily city hospitalizations have remained relatively low, with a seven-day average of 86 reported as of Aug. 16, up from 29 on July 16. Apple Inc. said it closed its store in Charleston, South Carolina, after more than 20 staff members were exposed to Covid-19.

“Since the very beginning of the pandemic, IBM has followed a set of protocols across all of our locations globally which include local government guidelines, local health and clinical conditions, and employee wellbeing to determine a safe return to the workplace,” the spokeswoman said. IBM’s current policy requires masks in offices, regardless of vaccination status.

IBM had opened two of its 10 locations in New York in recent weeks and the offices were available to a small number of employees on a voluntary basis. The Armonk, New York-based company told U.S. employees in June to return to work in person the week of Sept. 7. The date remains in place for other locations outside of New York as long as local health and clinical conditions remain positive, the spokeswoman said.

In March, Chief Executive Officer Arvind Krishna said he expected to see 80% of IBM employees working in a hybrid model after the pandemic receded and expressed concern about how remote work could pose challenges for community-building and upward mobility for staff. IBM has more than 345,000 employees in 175 countries.

(Updates to add Apple store closure in third paragraph.)

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