At a court hearing Friday for the Miami Herald’s lawsuit against Miami-Dade seeking the locations of traps in Miami Beach where mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were captured, a county attorney said the Florida Department of Health had instructed local officials not to disclose the information — a statement the state agency strongly denied afterward.
The suit seeks disclosure of the Zika-positive mosquito trap locations on grounds that the information would help the public make decisions about precautions to take if they live or work nearby, and also inform the community debate on the use of the controversial insecticide naled.
Rachel Walters, an assistant county attorney, told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen during a scheduling conference that the county plans to file a motion to dismiss the Herald’s lawsuit. Walters said the motion to dismiss would be based on the idea that an “indispensable party” — Florida’s health department — is not included in the lawsuit.
“We’re going to continue speaking with the Department of Health and asking them to release us from their instruction that we maintain confidentiality,” Walters said.
After learning of Walters’s statements in court, however, Florida health officials issued a written statement denying the agency ever muzzled the county.
“The statements made by the county today are completely false,” Mara Gambineri, a health department spokeswoman, said in an email. “At no time did the Florida Department of Health instruct Miami-Dade County to withhold the location of mosquito traps. This is solely the decision of the county.”
Miami-Dade officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the health department’s statement.
During the hearing, Ruiz-Cohen noted that she resides in Miami Beach but that it would not affect her ability to be fair and impartial in a hearing. Ruiz-Cohen did not indicate whether she lives within the 4.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach where mosquitoes are spreading Zika, a zone that stretches from Eighth to 63rd streets and from the ocean to the bay.
A hearing on the county’s motion is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse.
This story has been updated to reflect new information.