In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all have to adjust to a “new normal” in many ways—and that includes how we run professional businesses like a law firm. This disease may be on the wane, but it isn’t going away anytime soon. How do we handle reopening our offices in a responsible manner, one that protects our clients, our employees, and ourselves? Let’s explore some tips based on the best information available.
Viral Droplets in the Air—Reducing the Risk
Some of the best guidance I’ve found on the topic of the virus spread comes from UMass Dartmouth professor Erin Bromage. Her article, “The Risks-Know Them-Avoid Them,” has gained attention from many media outlets, and it offers an extensive scientific yet down-to-earth explanation of how COVID-19 spreads and what we can do to minimize risk. It’s definitely worth a read.
One of the primary takeaways of Bromage’s article is that COVID-19 infects people as viral load x time. This means if you have an infected person in the room with a lot of people in a relatively small space breathing the same air for hours, eventually “social distancing” by 6 feet doesn’t work anymore. The concentration of the virus in the air may increase over time and eventually infect others. Knowing this scientific truth, we can make smarter decisions about how to protect people in our offices. Some tips I recommend from this guidance:
- Maintain low occupancy. The fewer people you have spending all day in your workspace, the safer it is because fewer people are sharing the air. If some team members can work from home, let them. Also, space out client appointments to keep the office from getting crowded.
- Ventilate the office. Outside air always has the lowest viral load, so open windows whenever it’s feasible.
- Consider a HEPA filtration system. Air filters won’t kill the virus, but there’s evidence that HEPA filters can trap the coronavirus and keep it from recirculating.
The latest CDC guidance says contaminated surfaces are probably not a major player in transmitting COVID-19—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep washing our hands and disinfecting for extra safety. The following practices cost more time than money, and they will help:
- Disinfect surfaces once a day.
- Make hand sanitizer available.
- Invite clients to wash hands before and after appointments.
- Avoid shaking hands.
- Avoid touching your face and encourage others to do the same.
While only medical-grade masks can completely trap the virus, there’s a growing body of evidence that wearing a mask can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others—an important truth since nearly 40 percent of infections involve carriers with no symptoms. Masks are particularly recommended when social distancing isn’t possible. Use your best judgment in the office, but if space and ventilation are limited, masks can definitely help.
Even as lockdowns end, the fact is people won’t come to your law office unless they feel safe. None of these changes are convenient, but once they become habitual, they will eventually become the “new normal,” allowing us to continue growing our law firms while keeping each other protected.