With locally transmitted cases of Zika on the rise, several municipalities in Miami-Dade County are planning to spray their public parks and common areas with insecticides in hopes of preventing Zika transmission on their turf.
As part of public awareness campaigns, other municipalities have already started sending email blasts to their residents, handing out prevention fliers or having police officers distribute insect repellant to the homeless.
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As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 15 locally transmitted cases of Zika in South Florida, 14 of them in Wynwood. One new local infection outside that area could indicate that mosquitoes are spreading the disease beyond Wynwood, health officials said.
The possibility of Zika spreading outside the one-square-mile neighborhood north of downtown — the only area that health officials declared to be actively transmitting Zika — has prompted some cities to ramp up their efforts. The county is doing limited aerial spraying outside Wynwood based on the volume of complaints about mosquitoes it receives from other areas, but some municipalities want to take extra precautions.
“It’s clear we are not in the Zika zone, however, like all of South Florida, we are in a mosquito zone,” said Ed Silva, Palmetto Bay’s city manager. He said that many complaints and concerns have rolled in from residents as well as brides-to-be who have upcoming weddings at popular outdoor venues like Thalatta Estates, right on the shore of Biscayne Bay.
“A few of our guests are either pregnant or in the midst of conceiving during our wedding and there’s added concern on their travel to Miami,” one bride wrote in an email to the city. “[We] are also on high alert since we anticipate wanting to plan for a family very soon after the wedding. And my sister will be three months pregnant at the time.”
Although the venue has always had a “mist-system” to control mosquito bites, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest planned to start aggressively spraying their public areas as early as Thursday. Homestead, Miami Gardens and Doral have already begun spraying. Miami Beach is asking the county to fumigate.
“We are looking to get quotes from outside companies for fumigation in our parks and public areas,” Silva said. “This will augment the services we get from Miami-Dade County.”
On Wednesday, the county deployed airplanes that released insecticides across a 10-square-mile area of Miami, including the neighborhood where the virus is spreading.
“Miami-Dade County is ultimately responsible for mosquito control in Pinecrest, but because it is in close proximity to Biscayne Bay, the village is taking proactive measures to assist the county,” Pinecrest spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree said. “The Public Works Department does a village-wide sweep after rain events to identify any areas of standing water beyond a 24-hour period. And Pinecrest Gardens sprays daily, and at dusk when performances are scheduled.”
Most cities had mosquito-control procedures in place long before Zika’s emergence in Miami. Over the past few months, municipalities like Miami, Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay and Doral passed ordinances requiring residents to clear their homes or businesses of any standing water or debris — known breeding conditions for mosquitoes. In Coral Gables, city staff can fine properties they deem “overrun” with mosquitoes. Violators can be fined up to $500 a day.
In Miami Beach, the city has sent workers out to inspect neighborhoods and businesses for standing water.
“In the event there is standing water in the public right-of-way, public works takes measures to remove or disburse the water,” reads a letter sent to residents Saturday.
On Tuesday, Miami police officers walked along streets handing out insect repellent to homeless men and women.
For the next two weeks, Doral police officers will be distributing literature in the community. They will stand outside supermarkets, attend homeowner association meetings and enlist police explorers to pass out pamphlets.
It’s clear we are not in the Zika zone, however, like all of South Florida, we are in a mosquito zone.
Ed Silva, Palmetto Bay’s city manager.
Frank Fernandez, Coral Gables assistant city manager, said staff members are going door to door, handing out Zika awareness information and putting up posters in highly visible areas.
Almost all municipalities have created dedicated web pages with information on the Zika virus and echoing the countywide call to check backyards, drain standing water and wear mosquito and bug repellent. Some have also used social media to spread the message.
In Miami, city officials have switched gears to tackle the issue. Instead of just focusing on standing water, they’re cracking down on illegal dumping because “there is a direct correlation between it and the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests,” a city spokesman said.
Miami Herald staff writers Lance Dixon, Joey Flechas, David Smiley and Alex Butler contributed to this report.