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Amazon’s headquarters campus north of downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon told employees Thursday that it will delay its timeline for returning to regular work in the office until early next year.

The new date: Jan. 3, 2022. Previously, Amazon had expected employees to start working in the office regularly the week of Sept. 7.

However, Amazon stopped short of implementing a vaccine mandate for those who do work in the office, as companies including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have done. Amazon said it requires employees to wear masks in the office, except for those who can verify they’ve been fully vaccinated.

Amazon informed employees of the new timeline in a message this morning, and confirmed the details in a statement to GeekWire.

Its decision ups the ante for corporate responses to the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant. Microsoft earlier this week said the full reopening of its U.S. workplaces will now take place no earlier than Oct. 4. Google and Apple currently have similar timelines.

The role of Amazon and other tech giants as bellwethers for such decisions means that other companies often follow their lead.

Amazon’s guidance for returning to work has evolved in response to changing public health guidelines and employee feedback.  The company said in March that it planned to “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

It relaxed that stance in June, saying it would offer “a mix of working between the office and home,” with a baseline of three days a week in the office.

The seven-day rolling daily average of COVID-19 cases has more than quadrupled in Washington state in the past month, to more than 1,500 daily cases as of Aug. 1. In King County, home to Amazon’s large operations in Seattle and Bellevue, 64% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to state data.

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