Attorneys and support staff at Gardere, Arena y Asociados sported a new look in their Mexico City office on Monday: surgical masks.
The masks were one of several precautions the office's 30 workers have taken since Mexican government officials announced on Thursday that a deadly strain of swine flu had hit the country. By midday on the following Monday, more than 1,600 people across Mexico were reported to have been sickened by the virus and 149 were dead. Health officials in the United States and Canada have also detected swine flu.
"This is something that has been very quick, and we're still in the process of figuring out what we should be doing," said Marco Najera, an associate at the firm, which is a partnership with Dallas firm Gardere Wynne Sewell. "We're taking all the health precautions that the government is advising."
In addition to the surgical masks, attorneys and staff were making a point of washing their hands frequently and are trying to limit contact with clients as much as possible. When feasible, attorneys opted for telephone contact with clients instead of meeting face-to-face, Najera said.
Over the weekend, the government cancelled hundred of concerts and sporting events where large numbers of people might come in contact with each other. Following the advice of government health officials, any worker at Gardere, Arena y Asociados with flu-like symptoms was encouraged to stay home.
The firm was considering closing the office and allowing attorneys to work from home, but hadn't made that decision yet, Najera said.
An office closure might be more realistic if the firm's clients decide to temporarily close shop, Najera said. So far, that hadn't happened on a large scale.
Additionally, schools in the city were closed and the firm was trying to be flexible with working mothers who need to stay home with their children, he said.
"It's a little bit slower than usual, but people seem to be reacting very rationally to this," said William "Hunt" Buckley, a partner who has worked in the Mexico City office for nine years. "I don't feel threatened by anything at this time."
Buckley said that the firm had not closed its office -- which houses about 20 attorneys -- and had no plans to do so. Although police officers were handing out surgical masks at a tollbooth heading into the city during the weekend, he said, people in his office generally weren't wearing the masks.
"We're socializing as normal, but we aren't shaking hands," Buckley said.
As if swine flu weren't enough for Mexico City residents to deal with, the area was also hit by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake Monday afternoon. The quake didn't cause serious damage, however, and Buckley said that he did not feel the ground shake.
While Haynes and Boone attorneys don't seem to be sweating the swine flu scare, they may have been sweating nonetheless. The central air conditioning in their 20-story office building had been shut off to avoid any spread of the virus, and the city was hit with higher-than-usual temperatures.
"It's been a little warmer than normal, but that's about it," Buckley said.