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CEOs are at their wits’ end — they don’t know how to get their employees back in

CEOs are at their wits’ end to figure out how to get their employees back into the office as high levels of Covid infections persist 18 months into the pandemic. That’s the sentiment shared by CNBC’s David Faber and Jim Cramer, who regularly speak with business leaders about return-to-work challenges.

“I continue to hear a litany of frustration from those who run large organizations in terms of their inability to get people back in the office,” Faber said Friday in an exchange with his “Squawk on the Street” co-host Cramer. “I had a lunch and a dinner last night,” Faber said. “It’s just a never-ending theme. Some of these CEOs are at their wits’ end as how they deal with it. ‘How do I get people back in.'”

Cramer said possible approval of a new Covid antiviral pill from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics could be the “game changer we’ve been looking for” to get people who are worried about getting sick at work less fearful to go into the office. Pfizer and Swiss pharmaceutical Roche are also racing to develop Covid drugs.

“A lot of the times when you speak with companies that are involved in the supply chain, the issue is absenteeism,” Cramer said. “People are scared. Maybe if this makes it so you’re less scared, you’re going to show up to work.”

Merck and Ridgeback said Friday they plan to seek emergency authorization in the U.S. for their oral treatment for Covid after announcing “compelling results” in a late-stage clinical trial of unvaccinated participants. The drug, molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by around 50% for patients with mild or moderate Covid cases. If cleared by regulators, molnupiravir could be the first oral antiviral treatment for Covid.

Faber questioned whether people unwilling to get vaccinated against Covid would take an antiviral pill. “It’s Merck. They know how to do trials,” Faber said to Cramer, who was nodding his head. “We wouldn’t sit here and question it. But there will certainly be those who do, I’m sure.”

The delta variant led to another recent spike in infections in the U.S. While cases seemed to have peaked last month, the latest seven-day average of new daily infections was still 114,243. New Covid deaths averaged 1,957 over the past seven days after hitting a recent high over 2,000, the worst since March.

Corporate America has been grappling, in fits and starts as cases fluctuate, with how to safely bring their employees back to work and whether to impose vaccine mandates.

  • On Friday, PwC announced it will allow all U.S. employees, nearly 40,000 of them, who can telework the ability to work virtually from anywhere in the continental United States moving forward.
  • Many big technology names including Apple, Amazon, Alphabet’s Google, Facebook and Microsoft have postponed their return-to-work plans.
  • Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff said Tuesday, “We’re not all going back” to the office. CEOs of large companies call him and say they want their employees to return to the office, Benioff said, in an on-stage interview at the Code Conference in Beverly Hills, California. Benioff previously told CNBC he expects 50% to 60% of Salesforce employees to work from home even after the pandemic.
  • Wall Street financial firms have largely recalled their office workers, with many of them on hybrid schedules. Goldman Sachs is also requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to return to offices, following similar edicts from Morgan Stanley and Citigroup.
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