Business Monday

CEOs express concerns about the Zika virus

Dr. Alejandro Badia is an orthopedic surgeon who leads a network of orthopedic urgent care centers called OrthoNOW based in Doral. The company has locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Dr. Alejandro Badia is an orthopedic surgeon who leads a network of orthopedic urgent care centers called OrthoNOW based in Doral. The company has locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

This week’s question: It’s finally happened: Zika is infecting people in Miami’s Wynwood area. How will the outbreak affect local businesses and tourism? Are you worried South Florida could take a hit?

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There is no need to alarm the general population, and I encourage people to remain calm. While Zika does have serious consequences for women who are pregnant, or wish to become pregnant, it is a low grade infection that has constitutional symptoms which are self-limiting. The former population does need clear warnings, and certain steps must be taken to prevent and assess an infection. The latter need to adhere to the recommendations being issued by health officials. Viral illnesses come and go and there is no reason that this should impact our local economy.

Alejandro Badia, orthopedic surgeon and founder, OrthoNOW

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Obviously, everyone is concerned about Zika and what it could mean for the health of those who live in our community and the impact on business and tourism. I think it’s important to make sure we communicate accurate information with appropriate warnings, while also making sure that we do not incite panic.

Hilarie Bass, co-president, Greenberg Traurig

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Our hospitality partners at the GMCVB and the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association have been working closely with Miami-Dade County, Florida Department of Health and the CDC monitoring Zika closely. We are taking this issue very seriously and providing updates and information for our visitors and employees on Zika symptoms, how to protect themselves and their families. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor about their plans. Visitors in the area should note that there is no widespread transmission of Zika in Miami-Dade County.

Peggy Benua, general manager, Dream South Beach

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I am worried that the South Florida economy could take a hit. I also believe if we are proactive in prevention and treatment and in pushing out that message that the economy will recover quickly.

Meg Daly, president and CEO, Friends of The Underline

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Zealously, in response to the Zika cases in Wynwood, the governor and other appropriate parties; i.e., Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Public Health officials, etc., etc., immediately took appropriate action to inform the public, via electronic and print media, about the where, what, and how, of the actions they were taking, to ensure that the issue was being addressed. The knowledge/information disseminated to the public, locally, statewide and nationally, was comprehensive, clear, and non-alarming. It sent a loud, reassuring message to the world — All is well, come on down. Based on all reports I have seen, the message was heard. Suffice it to say, I don’t believe there will be any measurable fall-off on others visiting our great city.

T. Willard Fair, president and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami

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It is unfortunate that Miami has become ground zero for Zika in the United States, but it certainly isn’t a surprise. The virus is widespread in many countries that are less than an hour away by air, and the virus spreads quickly. Passive cases have already been reported on every continent except Antarctica. In the short term, it’s bad news for business and tourism in Miami, but the virus will likely spread throughout Florida and the Southeast soon. Unfortunately, Zika will be a national problem in the near future, and Miami will not be standing alone. In the meantime, we need to take the necessary precautions, adjust our business strategies and personal habits accordingly. My hope is that the CDC will quickly step up efforts to mitigate and manage the problem.

Mario Murgado, president and CEO, Brickell Motors

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The Zika virus is certainly impacting South Florida’s economy, specifically the Wynwood neighborhood. The CDC clearly voiced their concern by issuing the first domestic travel advisory in our country, an action that seems to have resonated with international and domestic travelers. I do find the outbreak concerning, and business will continue to suffer until the virus is controlled; however, I am confident that our state and federal officials will act in the best interest of the region, allocating funding without gridlock or added provisions that delay necessary action.

Steve Perricone, president and owner, Perricone’s Restaurant

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In the short term, this is something we have to be keenly aware of and ensure that we communicate our proactive approach to the world. The publicity has been very negative and could easily reduce tourism generally to Miami. All of the media attention will also scare locals away from visiting Wynwood temporarily. During the coming weeks, in all likelihood, either fears about Miami will decline or the mosquito problem will spread and the issue will no longer be just Wynwood. The county and the neighborhoods have reacted well, giving us the best chance to eliminate the problem. In the Design District, we immediately implemented a program to address all mosquito issues which exceeds the recommendations of the CDC.

Craig Robins, president and CEO, Dacra

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We understand this is a serious issue, especially for those who’ve been infected. It’s important to follow the recommended precautions from the experts as our leaders tackle this issue that is limited to a one-square-mile area of Wynwood, a treasured neighborhood in our very large county. However, this should not dissuade travelers from enjoying the emblematic destination points tourists are accustomed to visiting, including the Wynwood neighborhood. As it relates to local businesses, we need to support the ones that will be impacted. Our community will come together to meet this challenge, as it always does.

David Samson, president, Miami Marlins

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While it’s hard to know just yet what kind of impact it will have on local businesses and tourism, it’s encouraging that local, state and federal officials have taken the Zika virus seriously. We must continue to support the actions being taken at all levels to address the virus, and hopefully prevent its spread. For a company like FPL that has employees who work outdoors as well as within offices, it’s also important to ensure people are aware of the simple precautions, like long sleeves and mosquito repellents, that they can take to protect themselves.

Eric Silagy, president and CEO, Florida Power & Light

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A CDC travel warning is really never a good thing for businesses, and I’m sure this will not only be a South Florida issue. I am worried that this problem will be long-lasting and that it isn’t susceptible to easy solutions. South Floridians are understandably nervous about the potential consequences of being infected and, unfortunately, are receiving conflicting and incomplete information from their doctors. More than that, because there is no systematic screening of the general population, it’s hard for most of us to believe that the ‘Zika zone’ is truly limited to Wynwood. Indeed, when it comes to testing, the Department of Health told me that they will not test anyone who doesn’t have symptoms (an illogical rule when you consider that most people infected are asymptomatic), or who isn’t currently pregnant and living or working in Wynwood (a geographic restriction that, again, makes it difficult to determine whether the disease has spread beyond Wynwood). This inflexible combination of testing restrictions has left the rest of us to pay out of pocket for the needed tests. Needless to say, many South Florida women and men will not be able to spend hundreds of dollars on a Zika test, and to continue testing every few weeks. It’s also important to note that the Zika-carrying mosquitoes are not native mosquitoes, but instead are yet another problem caused by invasive species plaguing South Florida (add them to the list along with pythons, lionfish, and many more). With climate change, the range of mosquitoes and the length of mosquito season could increase as well. Putting the testing to one side, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus itself — in particular its effects on women who will become pregnant at some point in the future. I’ve also been concerned by news reports about the chemicals being sprayed from airplanes, one of which, Naled, is known for its toxicity to bees, birds and fish; it is prohibited for use in pet collars because of its potential hazards to children; and is currently banned in Europe. In the meantime, while we wait and suffer in unknowing anticipation, Congress has decided to take its summer recess — in the height of mosquito season — without providing the funding that will be necessary to combat this outbreak.

Rachel Silverstein, executive director, Miami Waterkeeper

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