Florida's Zika Cases Weigh On Businesses, State And Local Officials
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Miami, business leaders and local and state officials all are struggling to cope with the impact of Zika. Just last month, the first case of Zika transmitted locally in the U.S. was confirmed in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. Now health officials confirm that mosquitoes are carrying the disease in Miami Beach, accounting for at least five cases there. NPR's Greg Allen has been following efforts to control Zika in Florida and joins us now from Miami. Good morning.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with the latest numbers.
ALLEN: Up to now, we have 37 locally transmitted cases. Those are most likely all from mosquito bites. Related - those cases are mostly related to two areas. One is, as you say, in the Wynwood neighborhood - one mile square area - just north of Miami's downtown. That we've had for nearly a month now. On Friday, we heard from health officials there's a second area now. And this one is right in the heart of the tourism area - Miami Beach. It's a one-and-a-half-square-mile area. And there's five cases there, as you say. But those could be just the beginning. There are several other areas under investigation, isolated cases at this point. But health officials are looking at those.
MONTAGNE: And generally speaking, how are people there handling it?
ALLEN: Well, it really depends on who you're talking about. It's a very difficult time to be pregnant in Miami. We hear stories of women who really just will not step outside now because of the fear of what could happen with one mosquito bite. I've even heard of women who've missed their appointments with their OBGYN's because they're so worried about going out. For many other people though, I think it's - there's a lot of - a very low level of concern. I talked to students going to school yesterday. Kids were happy to be going back to school, not that concerned about mosquito bites, wearing their bug spray. But the issue there is that if enough - other people get infected, possible that the disease could be spread further. And so that's a concern.
MONTAGNE: And obviously there are efforts to control the mosquitoes that carry Zika. How effective are they proving to be?
ALLEN: Well, this mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is proving harder to control than I think many had expected. One reason is they found that it's resistant, down here in Florida, to some pesticides, especially the ones they've been using to spray by hand. The CDC encouraged the health department and mosquito control officials here to consider aerial spraying. They've done that with some success. They really knocked down the populations of mosquitoes in that Wynwood area.
But after a month of this, business owners there are really feeling the pinch and are starting to talk about - seeing their business down by 50 to 60 percent. And we heard yesterday, at a roundtable that the governor had here in Miami, a lot of pressure from business leaders to consider doing away with the maps and the boxes that are on the maps that kind of outline these hot zones. Here's what Florida's surgeon general had to say when she was asked about the box around Wynwood and when it could be lifted.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CELESTE PHILIP: The current language suggests that we would wait 45 days, which is three incubation periods. But we are in the process of discussing if there might be some flexibility.
ALLEN: Florida health officials are following the CDC guidelines about what areas are designated as these hot zones, these zones of active transmission. And many here aren't happy about how large those zones are and how long they're likely to stay in place.
MONTAGNE: And what about Miami Beach - as you pointed out, a big tourist area? Is it starting to lose business?
ALLEN: Well, so far, no, it's been much the same as we saw in the other neighborhood, the Wynwood neighborhood. The first weekend there after the announcement, there was a very low level of concern. The visitors packed in as usual. But over time, what you find is people start to change their travel plans. At least, that's what's happened there. There is concern that could happen at Miami Beach.
And the tensions had begun to show last week, when the news leaked that health officials were going to designate that area in Miami Beach as the second active transmission area. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said there was possibly two cases. And then the next day, the governor said there were five. And officials were miffed that they were kind of blindsided by this. That's led to some hard feelings. We heard about them yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PHILIP LEVINE: I hope that after this meeting we can be assured by you and by your team that we will get information as fast as possible.
RICK SCOTT: I just want to assure everybody. Whatever information comes out from the governor's office or the department of health will be timely. And it'll be accurate.
ALLEN: That was Mayor Levine and then Governor Scott - little hard feelings there between a Republican and a Democrat.
MONTAGNE: Right. Greg, thanks very much.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.