Weekend crowds, protesters flock to Wynwood as local Zika cases climb to 28

MIAMI (WSVN) - The Zika emergency did not keep people away from Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, Saturday night, as crowds filled the streets to take part of a popular monthly event and local business owners who have taken a financial hit continued to hold out hope that they’ll be able to bounce back.

Even as dozens of people were seen enjoying Wynwood Art Walk, an event held every second Saturday, local residents and visitors alike remained worried about the mosquito-borne virus. “Well, it’s something that you definitely want to protect yourself from, but I don’t think it should keep people away,” said Miami resident Christian Mariot.

Meanwhile, the aerial assault against mosquitoes continued, as planes spread insecticide in an effort to control the insect population. The use of the pesticide Naled has sparked controversy, and demonstrators took to the streets of Wynwood to demand that local leaders change the plan of attack against mosquitoes carrying Zika.

7News cameras captured a tense exchange between one of the protesters and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. “I don’t know how the county is spraying, so you’re putting me in a very awkward position,” said Regalado.

“It’s long overdue to stop the spraying,” said the protester.

But Regalado countered he did not have a choice in the matter. “The spraying is by mandate of the Health Department,” he said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez said spraying Naled is hardly a recent health measure in South Florida. “We’ve been spraying Naled in this community for over 40 years. This is not something new,” he said.

7News cameras captured Giménez having dinner at a restaurant in Wynwood as he did his part to reignite business in the area. Meanwhile, Regalado was seen going to door to door.

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During Art Walk, galleries, restaurants and retail stores open their doors to the public and guided tours of the trendy neighborhood are offered. “It’s exciting. There’s lots of entertainment. It’s a great atmosphere,” said a visitor.

Struggling businesses owners are doing everything they can to entice customers to come back, and some told 7News Saturday’s crowds came at the right time. “Sales have been absolutely down. There’s definitely economic hardship that’s happened,” said Joseph Furst, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. “These are small businesses. These are not chain stores. These are not national brands. These are small businesses that, if they have a slow week or a slow two weeks, it makes a real impact.”

As the number of non travel-related Zika connected to the area rose from 25 to 28, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stopped in South Florida to give an update, Friday. “If everything comes together well, our hope would be that within a year to 18 months, that we might be able to have a vaccine,” he said.

Meanwhile, health officials confirmed one of the three new cases came from outside of the Wynwood area, but they wouldn’t say where.

Officials are expected to release an update, Monday, on whether there are any new cases of Zika in the area.

Zika remains a hot topic for prominent politicians. During a town hall in Davie on Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did her part to calm concerns for business owners. “We will get through this,” she said.

And, as Art Walk got underway in Wynwood on Saturday, some said they’re confident they’re doing enough to protect themselves. “I have Off! spray. That’s my best friend, man,” said Kris Barnes, who is visiting from New York.

The Wynwood Business Improvement District is asking for emergency money to raise awareness and ease fears of the area. They’re hoping a little extra marketing and incentive will help keep the crowds coming back.

As part of the boost to push business in Wynwood, all meter parking on Saturday was free of charge.

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