Officials confirm 2 new Zika cases linked to Miami Beach

A Miami Beach assistant city manager said Thursday afternoon that two new Zika cases linked to Miami Beach have been discovered.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that two new cases of Zika have been found in Miami-Dade County, but he did not confirm where they were found. The governor’s office then told 7News around 6 p.m. that the cases are linked to Miami Beach, but the city is not a new transmission zone.

However, the New York Times cited sources close to Florida health officials in a report, Thursday afternoon, that said health officials were considering whether to make Miami Beach a Zika transmission zone. The total number of locally transmitted cases now stands at 35.

The assistant city manager said city officials had seen the report but said they have not heard anything about it. The health department said that active transmissions are still only occurring in the Wynwood area.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine returned to Miami late Thursday night and immediately went to city hall to speak at a press conference. He said there was only a link to the city as of Thursday night.

“There is no epidemic, there is no outbreak of Zika on Miami Beach. There are two unconfirmed cases, the county says and the health department says. But they have not been confirmed for Miami Beach,” Levine said.

Levine also said he’s been in contact with the health department and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez.

The Wynwood area was the first area in the U.S. with confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika. Florida Department of Health officials are expected to identify a specific geographic area for ongoing Zika transmission sometime this afternoon.

Parents picking up school uniforms in Wynwood were also advised about Zika protection, with officials telling them to spray their children, as well their clothing, with mosquito repellent.

“Apply it aggressively, not only on the skin but on the clothing,” Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

Officials handed out repellent and uniforms with long sleeves to protect against bites.

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 Florida’s economy, and this industry has the full support of our state in the fight against the Zika virus. We will continue to work closely with our businesses and the tourism community to ensure their needs are met,” Scott said in a statement.

Mitch Novick, who owns a hotel on South Beach, said he’s already had at least one cancellation that he suspects has to do with fears regarding the Zika virus. “We are a tourist economy and that could certainly be greatly impacted,” Novick said.

One club promoter on Ocean Drive said it would be bad for business if Miami Beach became a transmission zone. “Very bad, it’ll scare the tourists, scare the beautiful tourists of Miami Beach. We don’t want that problem,” he said.

“Unfortunately, no one wants to hear anything like that,” said Public Works Department Infrastructure Director Roy Coley. “I’m not an expert in disease transmission. I’d have to refer things like that to the department of health or the CDC. We know we’re doing the responsible thing, and we’ve been doing the responsible thing.”

In a written statement, City Manager Jimmy Morales said the city is in constant communication with the health department regarding mosquito control.

“Our strategy has been and will continue to be focusing on the elimination of potential breeding sites and educating our residents and businesses on what they need to do,” Morales said in the statement. “We are also working with the county, and they are also inspecting and as needed, mitigating through techniques like clean ups, larvicides and fogging.”

At around 4 p.m., the Miami-Dade County Mayor’s office had a conference call with the CDC and the Health Department where they will decide on whether or not to conduct aerial mosquito pesticide spraying in the area.

The City of Miami Beach is referring all questions regarding the Zika virus to the state.

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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