Health Care

Zika changes a way of life in Wynwood

Wynwood was quiet the first weekend after local Zika cases, the first in the continental U.S., were announced in the area.
Wynwood was quiet the first weekend after local Zika cases, the first in the continental U.S., were announced in the area.

The chalk sign in front of R House Wynwood is defiant: “Mosquito Thiz Nuts,” it declares. “We Party.”

The rest of the neighborhood doesn’t appear to agree.

After more than 15 local cases of the Zika virus in Wynwood — the first instance of the virus spreading within continental U.S. borders — the artsy district quickly became “ground zero” for the exotic illness.

After all of the news of Zika cases in the neighborhood near his Wynood business slowed down his walk-in business, Zak the Baker, decided to make a new creation — a shrine to Zika. The light-hearted shrine was made to make people smile and not tak

“It’s definitely slowed down business considerably,” an employee at Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop said Sunday morning. “Usually we do really good on weekends, but today it’s been super slow.”

The employee, who asked not to be named, said only one or two people had come by that morning, as opposed to the usual weekend rush.

On Saturday night around 11, the streets were nowhere near as packed as they usually are on a weekend. The rain probably didn’t help.

“Or the Olympics,” offered Steve Chavoustie, a South Miami obstetrician waiting with a friend outside R House Wynwood for the valet.

Chavoustie and his friend, another doctor, were discussing the Zika virus and the effect on Wynwood. “It’s bizarre,” he said.

“You can pull up to a restaurant, get out of your car and walk 12 feet into the restaurant,” he said. “You’re not going to be assaulted by an aedes aegypti mosquito.”

The doctors believe the situation is “overblown by the media,” because most infected people show no symptoms, and those who do recover in a week.

They would know. Last Monday, they returned from their annual medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where mosquitoes carry much deadlier diseases, like chikungunya and dengue.

Simple precautions, like wearing insect repellent with DEET and long-sleeved clothing, do a lot of good, he said.

But Chavoustie and his friend made a point to patronize Wynwood businesses in light of the news, and it paid off. They were able to get a coveted reservation at R House, and the line to get Chavoustie’s favorite drink, a Manhattan, went from 30 minutes to nothing.

“This fear has a real consequence for the business owners out here,” he said.

That scenario played out in real-time moments later, when a trio of women stepped out of their Uber and heard the news about the local Zika cases for the first time.

“Oh, that’s why it’s so dead,” said one.

“Let’s get out of here,” another replied.

In the outside patio of Wood Tavern, a couple was arguing spiritedly about exactly how afraid one should be.

“I have concerns,” 38-year-old Bianca Di Paolo said. “We should take reasonable precautions.”

She and 46-year-old Ilian Lekakos were smoking cigarettes by a taco truck.

“All this fear,” he said with a scoff. “I’m more afraid of being afraid than of mosquitoes.”

Di Paolo said she wanted to live her life, but safely. She misted herself with bug spray before she left, and aimed some at Lekakos, over his objections.

Even though the group most affected by the virus, pregnant women, isn’t usually well-represented in Wynwood nightlife, other women said the pictures of Brazilian babies born with shrunken heads as a result of the virus are jarring.

“It’s hard to separate yourself from that, even if you’re not thinking about having kids for a while,” said 24-year-old New Yorker Madeline Hooper, in Miami visiting her boyfriend, 26-year-old David Barry.

“But when you’re out here just trying to have a good time, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.”

Miami Herald staff writer Emily Cochrane contributed to this report.

Alex Harris: 305-376-5005, @harrisalexc

Clinton to visit area

Hillary Clinton’s campaign event in Miami on Tuesday won’t be a rally or a roundtable. Instead, she will visit a clinic to focus on efforts to combat the Zika virus.

The Democratic presidential nominee will tour the Borinquen Health Care Center, 3601 Federal Hwy., in Miami’s Midtown neighborhood, her campaign announced Sunday. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been identified chiefly in nearby Wynwood.

The event is not open to the public. Clinton will also attend two private fundraisers in Miami Beach.

Clinton’s Republican rival, Donald Trump, has avoided Zika on the stump — even while campaigning in Daytona Beach and Jacksonville last week — and sounded unprepared on the subject when a local TV news reporter asked him about it. He said Florida Gov. Rick Scott probably had “the Zika” “under control.”

On Monday, Clinton will hold rallies in Kissimmee and St. Petersburg. She’ll also tour a St. Pete brewery.

Patricia Mazzei