Florida Department of Health discussed withholding location of mosquito traps
Miami-Dade County on Wednesday will release the locations of mosquito traps that captured Zika-positive insects in Miami Beach, the result of a public dispute between state and local officials after the Miami Herald filed a lawsuit seeking the information.
The word came Tuesday evening, an hour after Gov. Rick Scott and Surgeon General Celeste Philip agreed that Miami-Dade can release the trap locations.
“Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez will be releasing the locations [Wednesday] morning now that the Florida Department of Health has approved the dissemination of the information,” said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernandez, adding that property owners at the locations will likely be notified Tuesday night or early Wednesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Gimenez sent a letter to the state health department saying he would release the locations of the traps unless state health officials prohibited the action — in writing — by Wednesday afternoon.
“This decision is one that is solely the county’s to make,” responded spokesman McKinley P. Lewis, a few hours later. “Gov. Scott encourages the county to disclose the locations of these traps immediately so that their residents may remain fully informed.”
But both the state and county had previously refused to disclose the locations, denying public records requests filed by the Herald. They said the records were exempt from the public records law because they were part of an epidemiological investigation.
The Miami Herald filed suit Sept. 16 against the county seeking disclosure of the 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 would inform the community debate on the use of the controversial insecticide naled, which is being used in Miami Beach to control the mosquito population.
On Friday, during a hearing on the case, a county attorney said in court that the state had instructed local officials to keep the trap locations secret. But the state insisted that the decision lies solely with the county, calling the county’s statements “completely false.”
On Sunday, the dispute escalated, when both Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine accused the Florida Department of Health of lying.
“It is disturbing that the Florida Department of Health is denying previous directives to maintain confidentiality of the trap locations,” Gimenez said in a statement. He said the county had been “carrying out the express orders of the Florida Department of Health as it relates to disclosure of mosquito-trap information.”
Tuesday, Gimenez sent his letter to Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip saying he planned to release the locations of the traps unless she told him by Wednesday that he could not.
In an email Tuesday, Philip responded to Gimenez: “As you know, this decision is one that is solely the county’s to make,” she wrote. “We encourage you to disclose the locations of these traps immediately so that your residents may remain fully informed and we are happy to serve as a resource to you in this process moving forward.”
So far, five batches of mosquitoes have tested positive for Zika in Miami Beach, where the active transmission zone for the virus covers two thirds of the island city. Only one of locations has been made public: the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, which had to close for a week in late August for mosquito treatment.
In the letter on Tuesday, Gimenez wrote that “the county has maintained the confidentiality of these locations based solely on the prior and repeated instructions from the Florida Department of Health.”
He also said state officials had contradicted themselves, a sentiment echoed by Levine.
“Clearly in [Gov. Rick Scott]’s administration, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Levine said in a text message. “I agree with Mayor Gimenez in that the state should allow this information to be made public.”
Even as the dispute over the information came to a head Tuesday, the state health department reported four new local cases of the Zika virus in Miami-Dade.
Officials said they are investigating where exposure occurred. One additional out-of-state resident has contracted Zika in Miami-Dade.
The department reported no new cases in the zone where mosquitoes are transmitting the virus in Miami Beach, which stretches from Eighth Street to 63rd Street, and from the ocean to Biscayne Bay.
In addition to the Zika cases, health officials announced late Tuesday that they had confirmed one person has contracted dengue fever in Miami-Dade. The individual has been treated and is expected to make a full recovery.
The health department is contacting people close to the infected individual to see if anyone else has the illness. It is the second locally-acquired case of dengue in Florida this year, and the first in Miami-Dade.
Zika Infections Reported in Florida as of Sept. 27
Number of Cases (all travel related)
Total cases not involving pregnant women
. . .
. . .
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*
* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.
** Does not include local cases
Source: Florida Department of Health