Mariano Corcilli was walking back to his South Beach apartment when he saw a gaggle of reporters crowding the sidewalk.
He wasn’t sure what was going on as he approached the door of his two-story Art Deco apartment building. Three workers from the Florida Department of Health stood speaking to a camera-shy neighbor about the Zika virus.
He was understandably confused. Neither he, his neighbor nor the health workers at his doorstep knew the Department of Health, working through Miami Beach officials, had told journalists they could follow the health workers as they canvassed the area. Last Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced the mosquito-borne virus had spread to Miami Beach, with five locally transmitted Zika cases traced to a 1.5-square-mile area in South Beach.
After filling out a survey, Corcilli didn’t give a blood or urine sample.
“I just went to the VA Hospital the other day and they gave me the thumbs-up,” said the retired Marine. “And as a rule, I don’t give samples when there’s like 37 people watching me.”
Most people would probably prefer to stay away from the cameras when discussing the possibility they may have Zika virus. But a communication breakdown between the Department of Health and Miami Beach officials led to the media following the health workers on Wednesday; the health department workers said they did not know reporters had been invited to tag along.
Miami Beach officials had sent out a press release saying there was a “media opportunity” with health workers in South Beach. When the media showed up, canvassers just trying to do their jobs were confused and residents opening their doors were agitated.
“Go away,” one woman screamed from her window in Corcilli’s apartment building. “No one said you could film here.”
The journalists were eventually told they could only get video and pictures of workers as they went door to door.
The incident underscored the confusion in communication between health officials and politicians in the Zika cases. Last week, Scott said the state hadn’t received all of the Zika antibody tests he had requested from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. The CDC said it had shipped all the requested kits.
Caught in the confusion are average citizens, who want clear answers on a virus that is not yet commonly understood by everyone. Since the end of July, 42 local Zika infections have reportedly been contracted in four Florida counties, with one each in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, and the remainder in Miami-Dade. The Miami-Dade cases stem from two zones that health officials say mosquitoes are actively transmitting the disease: Wynwood and Miami Beach.
There will be a town hall meeting about Miami Beach’s designation as a “Zika zone” on Monday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Waverly Condominium’s community room, 1330 West Avenue. After speaker presentations, a panel will answer questions.