Friday, May 20, 2022

On COVID-Era Business Travel

KLM gives out these adorable little ceramic houses as souvenirs for international business class travelers. We normally prefer to fly through London on another airline for our work trips, but that connection wasn't possible on Saturdays back in March.

I've done two lengthy business trips so far this year, one international in March and one domestic earlier this month. It's been a bit nerve-wracking both times because of worrying about COVID, including the negative test requirement to fly back in to the USA from abroad and the risk of depositions getting cancelled or rescheduled - after we've already traveled all that distance - if any of the many necessary participants get sick. 

In-person depositions generally include, at a minimum: the witness, the court reporter, the videographer, and at least one attorney from each side - so that's at least five people who need to be healthy before they spend several hours in an often windowless and cramped conference room together, in an event involving almost-constant talking. There's often also a second-chair attorney or client representative here and there, though their presence is not absolutely necessary. So it could be more like seven or eight people total. I'm not sure if my colleagues' strong preference for in-person depositions - though we have also done several remote ones since the pandemic started - is highly unusual in this COVID era. 

And ah, having done many non-remote depositions since February, in cities all across the US - and a few international ones -  most people generally choose not to mask during depositions, I'm often the only attendee in a mask throughout. The only exception is when the office we're using to host the deposition has rules in place about masking, but relatively few places do these days. (The witness is on video and we generally all agree they should not mask for that reason, but that's not necessary for anyone else.) 

My international business trip in March, to London and Luxembourg, ended up going completely smoothly from a COVID and COVID-testing perspective. The requirement to have a negative COVID test within a day before flying back in to the USA was a mild hassle, but we can generally always pay to get a suitable COVID test and documentation of the results from the types of hotels we stay at for work. 

It was definitely a slight cultural adjustment being in London in particular, as almost no one masks there anymore, including the employees at restaurants and hotels. (Back in March in NYC, I think maybe 40-50% or more of people indoors at your average store were still masking, and almost all restaurant and hotel employees as well.) Masking rates were also similarly low in most places in Luxembourg, though more people masked in the airport there than in London. Back then, we still needed to wear masks in airports and on airplanes in the USA, so the fact that this wasn't a firm requirement in London or Luxembourg came as a bit of a surprise! 

I guess I shouldn't be too shocked, given relative COVID case rates across the locations and dates, that it was my more recent domestic business trip, to Palo Alto, which ended up quite disrupted by COVID. Thankfully, I've personally been well throughout - after testing myself regularly using home antigen tests in the 10 days following the incident to make sure - but I had my first known close contact exposure since the start of the pandemic towards the end of the trip. An attorney for the other side got symptomatic and tested positive the day after we'd spent several hours a day in the same room for various depositions three days in a row. 

As far as I'm aware, the only other person who got sick from that source was that person's co-counsel, who had also spent time indoors with them outside of all the depositions. I think we can all be grateful that the office hosting these depositions had extremely strict mask rules, so only the attorney taking each deposition and the witness ever were unmasked! That policy seems to have very successfully limited the spread from that one person. Sadly, various other attorneys on the case have since gotten COVID from other work travel or the other events of day-to-day life. Everyone seems reasonably well at least, since they were all vaccinated. 

Thanks to my near-miss COVID exposure from my Palo Alto work trip, I certainly feel the importance of continuing to mask indoors in public as much as humanly possible! I don't know when I'll personally feel comfortable generally going unmasked in indoor public settings again, it hasn't happened yet. 

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