While ‘Zika Zone’ in Wynwood shrinks, number of local cases climbs to 25

MIAMI (WSVN) - Wynwood residents and business owners finally feel safe to step outside in their own neighborhood, Thursday.

The CDC continues to clear new blocks from the Zika Zone. On Thursday, a four-block area home to numerous apartment complexes, had been cleared.

Planes flew over Wynwood again, Friday, and also in Broward County near Weston to spray chemicals that kill adult mosquitoes. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murphy is also scheduled to visit Miami, Friday, to meet with pregnant women and their partners.

“That’s awesome, now my son can go outside and get out of my house,” said resident Evangelina Hill. “He’s been playing his video games, now he can go outside and be a child.”

Some residents, however, still fear the outdoors. “[We’re] scared,” said Rainbow Village resident Damaris Gurvi. “Nobody wants to get bit by mosquitoes, get all type of viruses that we don’t know where it’s coming from, so everybody just stays in their house.”

For more than two weeks, the streets of Wynwood have been noticeably deserted. “As you can see, there’s nobody outside,” said neighborhood resident Lewis Sparks in disbelief. “You can see everybody has been quiet and staying in, and when we do go out, we make sure we’re covered.”

And just as Wynwood business owners and residents received the good news that more blocks had been cleared of the “Zika Zone,” the total number of locally transmitted cases of the virus has climbed to 25.

The Wynwood Yard reopened for business, Wednesday, after temporarily closing due to the local transmission of the Zika virus in the area. It had immediately closed down, last Tuesday, once they were notified of recent Zika infections contracted in Wynwood.

Related: Miami-Dade County students in Zika zone can’t bring repellant to school

Nearly all of the locally transmitted Zika cases were contracted in a 500 square foot area in Wynwood, according to the CDC.

According to Wynwood Yard’s CEO and founder Della Heiman, the spread of Zika was a major concern for them due to the unique nature of their setup. It is a completely outdoor venue, meaning all employees and guests are exposed to all natural elements, including mosquitoes.

Upon closing down, business owners contacted the Department of Health (DOH) in order to offer voluntary Zika testing for all members of their team. “We love this community so much, and it was a really heart-wrenching decision to close,” said Heiman.

The testing revealed that, in fact, one of their team members tested positive for the Zika virus. “We had several employees that were ill. We had one case that was confirmed,” Heiman said.

Testing revealed, Thursday morning, that a second employee of Wynwood Yard had contracted the virus.

The DOH has left the decision to either remain closed or to reopen entirely up to the Yard team.

Related: Mosquito bite and Zika protection tips for Wynwood

“Being closed for this many days definitely had a big impact on our business,” said Heiman. “However, it is much more important for us to have all of the information we need to ensure that our team members and guests are safe and healthy. We’ve had a lot of tough decisions to make over the past week in an environment of great uncertainty, but our highest priority was to get more information in order to ensure the health and well-being of our team members and community.”

According to the business, they took all precautionary measures to ensure the safety of their guests and members. They have installed a “Mosquito Nix” system and have enforced mosquito safety measures and training on their employees. They also have mosquito repellent readily available to customers.

Heiman described the new automated mosquito repellent system. “Basically it’s a series of pipes and nozzles that surround the space and mists up to four times a day,” she said.

Other businesses experienced the sting of decreased sales after the rise in Zika-related concerns. “My clients are like, ‘Yo, is it all right for me to come get a haircut?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m alive and I’m in the shop right now,'” said a barber.

Wynwood business owners met Wednesday to discuss the recent loss in business traffic. “We don’t want this to continue to destroy this town that is losing a lot of customer base, a lot of money, really. A lot of us depend on our livelihoods here,” said business owner Robert Delosrios.

Many business owners said the CDC and the DOH isn’t giving enough information about the situation. “We’ve been frustrated that there hasn’t been a clear enough line of communication and explanation of how the map was devised, where the cases are occurring,” said Dr. David Polinsky of the Wynwood Business Improvement District.

Local community leaders are working to get Congress to allocate more funds to fight the virus. However, until that point, business owners have taken matters into their own hands. “But after putting all these measures in place and putting so much time and energy into training our team, we feel very confident,” Heiman said. “I would never open our doors again unless I was very, very confident.”

Related: Code compliance officials say Zika prevention efforts paying off

Police officers met with the Health Department, Thursday, to make sure they know what they are up against.

“I think it’s important for them to be educated,” Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said. “Number one, to keep themselves and their families safe. But also we’re really a trusted source for information in the community.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said there are 96 percent less mosquitoes in the Wynwood area since they began to spray mosquito pesticide from the ground and air. Officials conducted aerial sprays of this pesticide once more in the area, Wednesday morning.

Despite the decreased traffic, a very pregnant, yet confident Adelia Askarova toured Wynwood despite recommendations not to. “Yes, I know about it. That’s why I’m using repellent every time when I am walking, especially after it’s raining,” she said.

Askarova said the stares she gets do not phase her. “I think that it’s dangerous but not when the sun shines so brightly because when the sun shines, they do not fly.”

Business owners have scheduled a host of activities in Wynwood in order to boost customer traffic, including various happy hours, free two-hour parking in certain areas and an Art Walk Saturday.

Related: Miami-Dade County and Weston to be sprayed for mosquitoes on Friday

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