On his third visit to Miami since the nation’s first outbreak of Zika, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday once again asked Washington for more help fighting the infectious disease — even as he fended off accusations that he’s not disclosing new cases quickly enough.
“We are still asking the federal government to be a partner in this,” said Scott, who asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send an additional 5,000 Zika antibody tests and 10,000 prevention kits to Florida — an order that federal officials have promised to fill by Tuesday.
State health officials say the virus has begun spreading locally in Miami-Dade County, first in a square-mile area of Wynwood and, most recently, in a 1.5-square-mile section of Miami Beach.
At a roundtable meeting in the De Hostos Senior Center in Wynwood, Scott said the state is “working hard” to fight the virus and provide the resources it can. In a bipartisan push for federal Zika dollars, he appeared with U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson — a Democrat — and Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, as well as Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
But the coalition quickly fell apart. Levine, a Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations, had accused the Republican governor earlier that day of playing politics with Zika and keeping the city in the dark about the number of local infections. He confronted the governor.
“It’s important that myself, the city manager, our counterparts at the county are getting timely, accurate information as fast as possible,” Levine said. “As you know, we have our constituents. We have our businesses. … We’ve just got to have that information.”
He continued: “I hope that after this meeting we can be assured by you and your team that we will get information as soon as possible.”
Scott responded to Levine that the state has a responsibility to ensure that the information it issues on Zika is “timely and accurate.” A few hours earlier, he told reporters that he had released the information about the Miami Beach cases within hours of confirming them on Friday morning.
But after the meeting, the governor criticized Levine for not returning his telephone calls and failing to attend previous community meetings the governor had hosted on Zika.
“Everybody’s had the opportunity to participate,” Scott said.
Gimenez, a Republican who has participated in the governor’s community meetings prior to the first local Zika case, also took a shot at Scott during Monday’s meeting.
“Everything’s not rosy, Governor,” Gimenez said to Scott, who was seated near him. “There are times when communication has broken down a little bit, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen. We want to make sure we are all on the same page and we are all communicating the same thing. We are all Floridians.”
Florida has 37 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, according to the state health department. State Surgeon General Celeste Philip said there were no new local cases to report on Monday. There were seven new travel-related cases, with four in Miami-Dade, two in Osceola and one involving a pregnant woman — raising the statewide total to 600 people who have been infected with Zika this year.
Philip vowed an aggressive response to knock down mosquitoes and educate the public about Zika in Miami Beach. She said Wynwood has seen improvement after weeks of aerial spraying.
“So far in Wynwood,” she said, “we’ve seen that we’ve gone several weeks without any new cases.”
Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam reported that the state has trapped and tested 32,000 mosquitoes statewide, including 6,000 in Miami-Dade, and none has returned positive for the Zika virus, which he said was “a good thing.”
During the Wynwood meeting, Scott promised Miami-Dade that the state is sending an additional $5 million to help offset the county’s costs for increased mosquito control efforts in response to Zika, including aerial spraying in Wynwood and trucks and backpack foggers in Miami Beach.
“I’m very happy to hear that there’s a check in the mail. We’ll be waiting for it,” responded Gimenez, who has estimated that Zika will force the county to spend about $8 million.
Gimenez said the county has launched an aggressive response with more than 100 workers in the field every day dedicated to mosquito control.
Last week, Scott announced a second area in Miami-Dade with active transmission of the virus by mosquitoes in Miami Beach between Eighth and 28th streets, and Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean — the heart of the region’s tourism industry. Federal health officials issued an unprecedented advisory telling pregnant women to avoid the tourist destination — and to consider postponing travel to Miami-Dade County altogether.
The governor has yet to visit Miami Beach since announcing the news that Zika was spreading in the resort city. Scott’s absence was criticized on Monday by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, who held a press conference alongside Levine, the Miami Beach mayor, at an Alton Road café.
“He isn’t planning on coming to Miami Beach, which is astonishing,” said Wasserman Schultz, who has criticized congressional Republicans for failing to fund an emergency appropriation requested by President Barack Obama in February to fight Zika.
Wasserman Schultz and Levine also criticized Scott for providing insufficient information to local leaders when he announced the news that Zika was spreading on the beach.
“This issue is serious,” Levine said. “To play politics with people’s lives is wrong, and there’s no place for that.”
Asked if he had been “blindsided” by the state, Levine said yes.
“He not only blindsided me — he blindsided our administration, the county administration. I think he blindsided everybody,” Levine said
In Wynwood, business owners complained to the governor about the economic impacts of the CDC’s travel advisory telling pregnant women to avoid a square-mile area just north of downtown Miami.
While Scott’s administration has “cleared” sections of the square-mile area in Wynwood, the CDC’s guidance advising pregnant women to avoid the entire zone has remained unchanged.
Albert Garcia, vice chair of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, said Zika has put at risk a decade’s worth of redevelopment efforts to transform the once-blighted area into a cultural attraction.
“We can lose this in the next couple of weeks if we don’t act quickly,” Garcia said.
“When the box gets drawn, there’s tremendous implications,” said Joseph Furst, the group’s chairman, “and it sends an incorrect message to individuals outside that box where those individuals feel there’s no concern if they’re outside that area, and we know that’s inaccurate.”
“The reality of that box is suffocating,” added Jessica Goldman, CEO of Goldman Properties. “Businesses have seen anywhere from a 50 to 60 percent decrease. … It’s been a message of fear.”
Scott acknowledged the importance of tourism to Florida’s economy, noting that the industry employs about 1.2 million people statewide. He wouldn’t say whether the state’s public-private partnership to promote tourism, Visit Florida, would handle Zika.
The Visit Florida website added a travel advisory for Zika in Wynwood on Aug. 2, and was updated to include Miami Beach on Aug. 22.
“We just had another quarter of record tourism,” Scott said in Wynwood. “We’ve had 57 million tourists just in the first six months of this year. We’re on track to do 110 to 115 million tourists.”
A previous version of this article stated that the Visit Florida website contained no travel advisory for Zika. Visit Florida added a travel advisory on Aug. 2.
Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.
Zika cases reported in Florida as of Aug. 22
Number of Cases
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