MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott confirmed, Friday, that active transmission of the Zika virus is happening in a 1.5 square mile area of Miami Beach, making it the second zone where the mosquito-borne virus is being spread in Miami-Dade County.
Friday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory urging pregnant women and their partners, as well as women who may become pregnant, to avoid the area of Miami Beach where the Zika virus is being spread by mosquitoes.
The CDC also suggested pregnant women and those who are thinking of becoming pregnant as well as their partners to stay out of Miami-Dade County, entirely.
At a press conference at the Miami-Dade County Department of Health, Scott confirmed there had been five new cases of locally transmitted Zika contracted in Miami Beach. “We believe we have a new area where local transmissions are occurring in Miami Beach,” he said.
“The area includes some of the most iconic spots in South Florida, including Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. It goes from the beach to the Intracoastal, from Eighth Street to 28th Street,” said Scott.
The people infected with Zika in Miami Beach are three women and two men, he stated. Of the five patients, two are Florida residents, and the other three are from New York, Texas and Taiwan.
Speaking with 7News after the conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said business owners in the second Zika zone will likely take a financial hit. “I’m not happy that we have it because, obviously, it will have an effect in the economy just as did with Wynwood,” he said.
The City of Miami Beach held a press conference at 5 p.m. Friday regarding the confirmed, locally-transmitted Zika cases connected to the city.
“To date, we have two very small areas in Miami-Dade County where we believe local transmissions are occurring,” said Scott.
South Florida’s hospitality industry has dreaded the possibility of Zika spreading to Miami Beach because the region’s economy relies heavily on tourism, which generates $24 billion a year for the city. Scott said he would work with the tourism industry, especially hotels, to make sure they are educated on the outbreak.
“Tourism is a driving force of our economy, and this industry has the full support of our state in the fight against the Zika virus,” said Scott.
At the Miami Beach press conference, the president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau said the Beach has experienced a lucrative summer. “A record summer. Traveling tourism in Miami Beach and Miami has been record … With this messaging, and the program that’s going to roll out, that record will continue and jobs will continue to grow here on Miami Beach,” said Bill Talbert.
It might be the slow season in South Beach, but tourists are still flocking to the South Florida destination. However, some visitors were not happy to hear about the presence of Zika. “Yeah, it’s a little bit unsettling,” said a woman.
“We just need to be cautious,” said a man.
“It makes us really uncomfortable,” said a woman.
During the press conference, Scott also addressed the measures already taking place in Miami Beach in hopes of combating the spread of the virus as efficiently as possible.
“Just like when we learned of transmission in Wynwood, the county has already begun an aggressive mosquito eradication plan that includes additional spraying in Miami Beach,” said Scott. “I also directed the Department of Health to contract with private mosquito control companies to assist the county in this effort. We will continue to work with the county’s mosquito control district and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to ensure we are utilizing all resources for mosquito abatement. The Department of Health will also be doing extensive and strategic testing to identify any other people.”
7News cameras captured mosquito control crews in Miami Beach using chemicals to kill mosquitoes in storm drains, but the CDC director said the aerial spraying used in Wynwood will not work in the area because of high buildings and strong winds. Nevertheless, the county has been conducting spraying on the ground.
Among those paying close attention to the Zika threat is Mitch Novick, the owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel on Collins Avenue. He said he has been through many of the financial ups and downs of South Beach. “We are a tourist economy, and that could certainly be greatly impacted,” he said.
Friday afternoon, it was business as usual at David’s Cafe Cafecito on Alton Road. “Every penny counts, every dollar counts. Every day is a new day,” said owner Adrian Gonzalez.
Pregnant employee Angelica Meza, who also lives in Miami Beach, said she’s taking special precautions to prevent getting bit by mosquitoes. “Especially me, as a pregnant woman, I have to take care of myself, put on repellent,” she said.
The virus is an especially unwanted problem, as Miami Beach looks ahead to the busier fall and winter months, which brings several high-profile events like December’s Art Basel, when the contemporary art world comes to town.
“You go on holiday, and you want to be carefree and not thinking about your health and your safety, but when you hear there’s no break from the virus, you get a bit concerned.” said a tourist.
Still, Levine said, the city is ready to battle the spread of the virus. “We’re all working together to continue the efforts that we had begun in January, which we ramped up in June, and now we are pushing even more,” he said.
While the second area of transmission causes great concern, the state has been successful in diminishing the amount of mosquitoes in Wynwood, the first confirmed area of Zika. Scott declared three more blocks in the northeast corner Zika-free. This is in addition to the 14 blocks already cleared by the Department of Health.
According to Scott, the total number of local transmissions of the Zika virus in the state of Florida is now 36.
Friday afternoon, the governor walked the streets of Wynwood to show his support, but many business owners are not happy. “We found the messaging from the Governor’s Office to be very dissatisfying, frankly misleading,” said Joseph Furst, the chair of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. “The idea of this containment in small areas, I think, is also an alarming issue, when we should all be focusing on a broader regional issue as opposed to creating boxes.”
Many are questioning whether state leaders are keeping city officials in the loop, especially since Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine denied the virus was being spread in the city during a news conference, Thursday night. “There is no epidemic. There’s no outbreak of Zika on Miami Beach,” he said.
Fifteen hours later, Miami Beach became ground zero of the latest Zika outbreak. Levine said he didn’t even find out the full extent of the Zika spread until Scott’s press conference. “It’s a little bit frustrating when you’re not getting a call from Tallahassee,” he told reporters, Friday afternoon. “It’s very frustrating when you’re not getting information from the Governor’s Office. It’s a little frustrating when the governor’s having a press conference at 12 o’clock, and he’s informing all the elected officials and the public at the same time.”
During his walk in Wynwood, Scott said he’s committed to transparency. “We’re very accurate with our information. We’re very careful,” he said. “Our Department of Health is doing a good job doing investigations.”
The governor assured residents that his office will continue to provide updated information about the virus. “We’re going to provide accurate, timely information for public health,” he said. “I want everybody in the state to stay safe. I want our visitors to stay safe.”
Novick said he has already had several cancellations at his hotel.
A 24/7 Miami Beach Public Works hotline has been set up for residents to report standing water that has been there for over 48 hours. The phone number is 305-673-7625.
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