This week’s question: How would you grade Miami-Dade’s response to Zika? Why?
I would grade Miami-Dade County and our various municipalities’ response to addressing the actual mosquito issue an A. However, I do not believe we did well in countering the media’s interpretation of the issue. Not only did the perception of a mass epidemic negatively impact our tourism as well as our local residents’ interest in going out and about in our own city, but it also impacted new-to-market business growth. Today, many businesses in major markets throughout the U.S. and abroad have Zika as their No. 1 concern when considering Miami as a new location for expansion or relocation. This matter has set our retailers, hotels and residents looking for employment back considerably, with no clear timeline for a “recovery.”
Donna Abood, principal and managing director, Avison Young
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Miami-Dade has taken the appropriate precautions and steps in responding to Zika. It is really an issue affecting our entire continent, but has been blown out of proportion as it relates to Miami. I am hopeful that a solution is found that is safe for the community and the environment.
Adelee Cabrera, regional director, Starr Catering Group
I’d give it a D. Miami-Dade County was unprepared and overwhelmed. Miami-Dade should have acted earlier by funding and adopting tactics that were recommended and used in other districts. They were simply not aggressive enough or quick enough in responding to what we all saw was coming.
Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director, South Florida, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida
I would grade Miami-Dade’s response as a B minus. Miami is a true international city that attracts visitors from across the country and globe, but I heard from too many people who were afraid to come because they thought that the entire region was affected by Zika. With a stronger external communications response, we could have helped mitigate this misconception.
Albert E. Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg
The county was very proactive and acted quickly. They identified the problem and sought guidance from the experts, like the CDC, to help eradicate Zika. They proactively shared information with the public, raising awareness about what the community could do to protect themselves. They assessed water and containers, sprayed large areas to eradicate the mosquito population that carried the virus. They did all this while minimizing disruption to the residents and the tourist industry.
Aurelio M. Fernandez III, president and CEO, Memorial Healthcare System
It was a proactive response, but better communication to the public could have mitigated the anxiety created by the unknown. People needed to understand the nature of the problem and the consequences of infection. You can never invest enough resources when it comes to prevention.
Elaine Liftin, president and executive director, Council for Educational Change
This is a serious matter for those living in Miami, and for those of us in the tourism and travel sector. As this was the first time many people have even heard of Zika, the number of unknowns and debates sparked fear on a local and national level. However, it is a real threat, and its potential recurrence needs to be tackled in a smart and collective manner between public institutions and private entities. Like many viruses that have occurred in Asia, Mexico and elsewhere, this one will also leave us to find proper treatment and cure to prevent this issue in the future, for the health of our residents and visitors, and to mitigate the negative economic impact on the region.
Diego Lowenstein, CEO, Lionstone Development
Good. Why? It appeared as if they took the mass hysteria seriously. I got a visit from the Zika people who went over my house and pointed out weak spots. I thought that was proactive and I appreciated the information.
Suzan McDowell, president and CEO, Circle of One Marketing
I think that local government has been effective in taking direct action and maintaining regular communication. It is important to recognize that Zika, for the first time, has brought the CDC together with state government and the Department of Health to generate a U.S. travel advisory for an infectious disease in a specific geographic zone. After the announcement on July 29, protocols around what to do were being improvised with the many different municipalities involved learning as they went. Even so, Miami-Dade County and the municipalities involved did a credible job issuing educational information about Zika and convening numerous community meetings to educate and inform residents, visitors and businesses.
Jay Pelham, president, TotalBank
I would grade Miami-Dade an A for its responsiveness and effective communication throughout this threat. The Office of Emergency Management Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has consistently provided updates and advisories to Johnson & Wales University. We have received more than 17 Zika Virus Flash Reports to date, which have been helpful in advising our campus community on how to protect themselves. From the beginning, the county has been focused on isolating the Zika threat and protecting the community.
Larry Rice, president, Johnson & Wales University North Miami Campus
I would rate it poorly because the local government has known since the beginning of the year that Miami was prone to the Zika virus due to the high rate of international travel, yet did nothing to handle proactively. This situation is similar to what happened with Chipotle and its unsafe food handling practices. In business and in government, you have to know when to mitigate damage before it gets out of control, otherwise consumers and businesses are the ones who end up getting hurt. Just as Chipotle franchisees have been hurt by the food safety crisis, Miami hospitality businesses are hurting as well.
Eddie Rodriguez, CEO, JAE Restaurant Group
I think Miami-Dade County has done a good job on its handling of the Zika issue. It took a great deal of expertise, planning and crisis management to superbly deal with the Zika problem, which previously was unknown. There is always a fine line between public safety and overreacting. I commend the county’s swift reaction to this threat, while minimizing the impact to businesses and the community.
Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade
This was a tremendous effort of coordination across local, state and federal agencies to act quickly and mitigate the spread of this virus. I commend Mayor Gimenez for his leadership role in keeping our residents and visitors safe.
Vincent Signorello, president and CEO, Florida East Coast Industries
Miami-Dade responded well, comparatively. The county was swift to target eradication of the Zika-carrying mosquitoes before the virus spread. As we saw in other areas of the world, it spread quite far before the proper actions were taken, resulting in much greater travel panic and loss of tourism revenue than what we saw here.
John Tanzella, president and CEO, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association
I believe there may have been a rush to use aerial spraying as a reaction where a pause to assess the impacts to the environment and humans would have created a sense of confidence among the citizens of Miami-Dade County. As a county, we need to continue to look at long-term impacts to our environment. A greater information campaign relating to public health and the products being used would have greatly benefited the effort. That being said, the county did a good job of quickly minimizing the spread of Zika and mitigating the economic impact to small businesses.
Frank Vilar, president, OHL Arellano
Our local leaders are in a tough spot, as they are grappling with an issue that even the experts don’t fully understand. Pressure to do more will grow as Miami’s high season begins, but they need to ensure that any measures they take — such as the use of GMO mosquitoes — don’t create other problems or unintended consequences.
Faith Read Xenos, co-founding partner, Singer Xenos