Two more local cases of Zika virus were confirmed Friday in Miami Beach, where a fifth sample of mosquitoes has tested positive for the virus.
The Florida Department of Health reported the two new cases along with 10 new travel-related cases across the state, six of which are in Miami-Dade County.
The new Zika-positive batch of mosquitoes, reported by the Miami Herald Friday afternoon and later confirmed by the Florida Department of Agriculture in a press release, were found Sept. 9 inside the 1.5-square-mile zone of active transmission in South Beach.
As public health concerns mount, Zika is already affecting the local tourist economy — with one hotel reporting their worst three-week period in the last 15 years, according to the Miami Beach City Manager’s office.
Since the local outbreak first was announced on July 29, the county has been trying to control the mosquito population, monitoring 19 mosquito traps throughout South Beach. State officials have tested more than 52,000 mosquitoes since May in 3,200 sample groups, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. But of the five positive samples, only one location has been made public — the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, which had to close for a week to be treated for mosquitoes.
On Friday, the Herald filed suit again Miami-Dade County to force the release of records indicating the locations of the other traps.
South Beach has been mired in controversy since the county began aerial spraying to reduce the mosquito population. Protesters have filled City Hall twice to oppose the spraying of naled, a neurotoxin considered effective at killing the Aedes aegypti mosquito that can carry Zika. Officials say the low concentration of the insecticide does not pose a threat to people. Residents are reporting feeling ill after the spraying and seeing dead bees on the ground.
The county will aerially spray naled on Miami Beach again at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The target area is the Zika zone, from Eighth to 28th streets, from the ocean to Biscayne Bay. People worried about spraying are advised to stay inside for one hour afterward.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine pointed to the new Zika cases as justification for spraying, saying the county “must listen to all the experts and use any and all safe and reasonable methods to stop the transmission of the Zika virus in Miami Beach.”
Meanwhile, the hospitality industry is suffering and the fight against Zika is getting more expensive.
During a 4 p.m. 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.
Hotels reported the losses to the city manager’s office during the conference call. The Fontainebleau hotel has had its worst three weeks in 15 years. The Carillon Resort has lost $100,000 in short-term cancellations. Owners of the Mandarin Oriental — which is on Brickell Key, not Miami Beach — are 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.
Friday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott authorized another $10 million in state funds to fight the mosquito-borne illness.
That brings the state’s total bill to $36.2 million, a news release said. Two areas of Miami-Dade have been labeled as transmission zones for the virus — Miami’s Wynwood district and South Beach— triggering an unprecedented travel advisory warning pregnant women to avoid going to those areas.
The number of confirmed local cases rose to 89 Friday — 79 Florida residents and 10 who live out of state but acquired the disease in Miami-Dade.
As Florida worries about Zika’s impact on public health and tourism, Congress has yet approve a funding package to bolster the state’s efforts to contain the virus.
“Zika is non-partisan and I have been very clear that something had to get done this week,” Scott said in a news release, after he attended meetings in Washington this week urging lawmakers to act. “While it doesn’t look like that is going to happen, I will not wait on the federal government to protect Floridians and our visitors.”
Scott’s office said the additional state money will be spent on mosquito control, increased lab capacity for testing and the purchase of Zika prevention kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zika Infections Reported in Florida as of Sept. 16
Number of Cases (all travel related)
Total cases not involving pregnant women
. . .
. . .
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*
* counties with pregnant women are not identified
** does not include local cases
Source: Florida Department of Health