Almost all of Miami Beach, the home of posh hotels and plush mansions, has been declared a Zika hot zone, the Florida Department of Health of Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.
With Miami already reeling from from confirmed cases if tiurusts who contracted the disease on their Miami vacations, Friday’s announcement may well lead to a major decline in those tourist dollars so vital to the regional economy.
State officials in Florida on Friday tripled the active Zika transmission zone in the trendy seaside community of Miami Beach after five new cases of the mosquito-borne virus believed to cause a severe birth defect were identified in the area.
The active transmission zone grew from 1.5 square miles to 4.5 square miles and consists of a large portion of the popular tourist destination, Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement on Friday evening.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told the Miami Herald that the city will begin truck-spraying of larvicide in the zone on Saturday.
“We have a serious problem,” he told the newspaper. “Once again, we must take all reasonable and safe action to eliminate this. This is a problem.”
More on the impacts from the Miami Herald:
By dramatically expanding the beach’s Zika zone, Scott has ramped up an area of caution that already has hotels warning of sharp slowdowns and elected leaders pleading with Florida and Washington for financial help if the region’s economy suffers the severe hit they fear might be coming.
Miami Beach began the day with some unsettling Zika news: two new cases in the original zone, south of 28th Street. Hours later, Scott announced the expanded zone and a total of five cases.
The number of locally transmitted cases is now 93, which includes at least 10 people who live outside the state but acquired the virus here.
During an afternoon conference call between Miami Beach and county officials Friday, some local hotels reported their business has taken a serious hit in the past month. Many have lost group bookings.
The Fontainebleau hotel told the city manager’s office it has had its worst three weeks in 15 years. The Carillon Resort had lost $100,000 in short-term cancellations. And owners of the Mandarin Oriental — which is on Brickell Key, not Miami Beach — were concerned about bookings for Art Basel, which are not coming in at their usual pace. Art Basel is an annual art fair held in South Beach, a marquee event during the first week of December.
The governor’s cash pitch
From Scott’s announcement:
“While we’ve learned that we’re expanding the impacted area in Miami Beach, the good news is that we expect to lift the zone in Wynwood on Monday because of our aggressive mosquito control measures, outreach to the community, education efforts and the vigilant actions of the residents and businesses in Wynwood. The expansion of the Miami Beach area where local transmission is occurring highlights the need for continued aggressive mosquito control measures and for Congress to immediately approve federal funding to combat Zika. I went to Washington this week to meet with Congressional leaders and urge them to immediately provide funding for this national crisis. Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus to find a vaccine to help pregnant women and their developing babies.
“Due to the inaction by Congress, I authorized an additional $10 million in state funds today to continue fighting Zika. I am also continuing to call on Congress to hold a field hearing in Miami on Zika preparedness and prevention by October 1. I know many members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation are fighting for Zika funding and it is critically important that members come to Miami and hear directly from those who are on the frontlines of batting this virus.
“Following today’s news, I am asking the CDC to provide Florida with an additional epidemiologist to support DOH’s efforts to combat and contain Zika and host a call with community leaders and clinicians in Miami Beach to answer questions and provide the latest guidance on Zika. In August, I asked the CDC to send additional lab support to Florida and while they have provided some resources, we need much more. That is why earlier this week I asked the CDC for more lab support. Additionally, I am renewing my call to the Obama Administration to provide 10,000 Zika Prevention Kits to protect pregnant women and a detailed plan on how they would like us to work with FEMA now that Zika is mosquito-borne in our state. We have continued to call on the CDC to quickly respond to these requests, and pregnant women who are most at-risk for the Zika virus deserve to have these requests immediately fulfilled.”
The governor stands to reap rewards
Cynics might think the Florida governor’s call for a major federal cash infusion to fight the disease-carrying mosquitoes, given a story reported 17 August by the investigative journalism website FloridaBulldog:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has an undisclosed financial interest in a Zika mosquito control company in which his wife, Florida First Lady Ann Scott, owns a multi-million dollar stake through a private investment firm she co-owns.
The company is Mosquito Control Services LLC of Metairie, LA. According to its web site, MCS “is a fully-certified team of mosquito control experts – licensed throughout the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.”
On June 23, Gov. Scott signed an executive order allocating $26.2 million in state emergency funds for Zika preparedness, including “mosquito surveillance and abatement, training for mosquito control technicians and enhanced laboratory capacity.”
It is not known whether MCS, whose services include monitoring and aerial spraying, stands to benefit from Florida government funds. Company manager Steven Pavlovich holds an active Florida “public health applicator” license with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services through April 2019, but MCS is not a registered state vendor. The Department of Health contracts with two other two mosquito control vendors.
MCS did not respond to two requests for comment.