Health Care

Tempers flare as public protests spraying for Zika mosquitoes in South Beach

A contentious debate over aerial insecticide spraying to knock down mosquitoes carrying Zika virus raged again Wednesday morning in Miami Beach.

Hundreds of residents packed City Hall for about three hours of public comment and testimony from medical professionals and government officials that ended with the City Commission passing two resolutions urging Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee to investigate mosquito control methods that don’t include naled — a controversial neurotoxin that has been sprayed over the Beach twice now.

One commissioner’s motion to seek an emergency injunction to stop the spraying —which will happen again Sunday — failed. The city will also spearhead the creation of a panel of experts to evaluate alternative mosquito control methods.

The discussion was peppered throughout with angry outbursts from frustrated audience members, who ranged from outright Zika skeptics to residents who urged the city to place a moratorium on aerial spraying and explore alternatives.

But the city says it has no jurisdiction over mosquito spraying, and it is the county’s decision to make. All commissioners can do is pass resolutions and possibly pursue legal action.

The testy exchanges died down around noon, when the commission took a lunch break, then moved on to other topics. The morning conversation echoed a public workshop held last week, when residents made it clear they want more options. In some cases, people said they don’t even consider Zika a serious threat to public health because they don’t believe the science that suggests the virus is linked to a higher incidence of severe birth defects.

Wednesday’s meeting was more unruly though, as tensions between opponents of naled spraying and government officials boiled over. At times, the crowd’s jeers drowned out whoever was speaking, and commissioners grew frustrated on the dais. The anger highlighted growing mistrust of government among some residents.

Resident Michael Capponi repeatedly asked for a two-week moratorium on the spraying, which is scheduled to continue early Sunday morning and again the following Sunday. He wants the county, which has jurisdiction to conduct spraying for mosquitoes, to monitor the number of mosquitoes trapped in the Beach to determine if ground efforts and the first two aerial sprays have worked.

“I don’t think that was an unreasonable ask,” he said afterward, unsatisfied with the resolutions. He pledged that residents would collect dead bees and fish after the next round of spraying and get the bodies tested for insecticide poisoning.

The county is monitoring 19 traps inside the South Beach zone where Zika has been transmitted. It reported the daily average for all traps was 18.8 mosquitoes each on Sept. 6, 13.6 on Sept. 7 and 21.1 on Sept. 8, before aerial spraying. The first spraying flight took off early on Sept. 9, when the average was 22.6. The averages afterward were 16.39 on Sept. 10 and 9 on Sept. 11.

Commissioner Michael Grieco, who opposed the use of naled even before it was scheduled for South Beach, had drafted a resolution instructing the city attorney to file an emergency injunction to stop the spraying. The motion failed.

Earlier, Grieco summed up his concerns.

“What happens if the mosquito count doesn’t go down? What if it does? What if it shoots back up?” he asked. “When does it stop?”

Alina Hudak, Miami-Dade deputy mayor, told the commission the county will continue to spray. She responded directly to critics in the audience while emphasizing that the decision to spray naled was made after consultation with state agriculture officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I don’t make decisions based on Google searches,” she said.

Lillian Rivera, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, said Wynwood had fewer cases of transmission after spraying and said Wynwood’s travel advisory could be lifted Monday if no new local cases are identified. Meanwhile, Miami Beach’s travel advisory appears stuck in place as new cases are reported daily. The CDC won’t even consider lifting a travel advisory before a neighborhood has gone at least 45 days since the last new case was reported.

“Here in Miami Beach, the clock is not ticking at all,” she said.

As commissioners later discussed the next fiscal year’s budget, they mentioned some of Zika’s economic impacts. Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman said she’d been told the Loews Hotel has had 700 cancellations. City Manager Jimmy Morales suggested using some of the nearly $40 million set aside for an upcoming streetcar project as a sort of mini-reserve fund to offset potential resort tax losses.

Florida health officials on Wednesday reported one more local Zika infection in Miami Beach and five travel-related cases, including two in Broward, one in Miami-Dade, one in Hillsborough and one in Polk counties.

In total, the health department has confirmed 805 Zika infections in Florida this year — with 725 travel-related cases, including 86 pregnant women, and 80 local cases, including nine among out-of-state residents.

Miami-Dade remains the only place in the nation where mosquitoes are actively spreading Zika, according to health officials, including a 1.5-square-mile section of Miami Beach and a smaller zone in Wynwood. But at least 11 more local Zika infections have cropped up in other areas of Miami-Dade where epidemiologists are currently investigating to determine the date, source and location of exposure.

Staff writers Daniel Chang, Jenny Staletovich and Chabeli Herrera contributed to this report.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

Zika infections reported in Florida as of Sept. 14

County

Number of Cases

Alachua

10

Bay

3

Brevard

13

Broward**

109

Charlotte

1

Citrus

2

Clay

3

Collier

6

Duval

8

Escambia

3

Hernando

4

Highlands

1

Hillsborough

19

Lake

3

Lee

9

Leon

2

Manatee

4

Marion

3

Martin

2

Miami-Dade**

205

Monroe

4

Nassau

1

Okaloosa

3

Okeechobee

1

Orange

70

Osceola

27

Palm Beach**

36

Pasco

8

Pinellas**

16

Polk

22

Santa Rosa

1

Sarasota

3

Seminole

20

St. Johns

4

St. Lucie

5

Volusia

8

Total cases not involving pregnant women

639

. . .

. . .

Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms

86

* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.

** Does not include local cases.

Source: Florida Department of Health

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