Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade hiring insect expert as Zika tab approaches $30 million

Kendall Baptist Hospital hosts a community session on the Zika virus

Stephanie Mihlbauer, 28, who is more than four months pregnant, talks about why she is attending a Zika Information Session at West Kendall Baptist Hospital on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The free session hosted by Baptist Health South Florida invited
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Stephanie Mihlbauer, 28, who is more than four months pregnant, talks about why she is attending a Zika Information Session at West Kendall Baptist Hospital on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The free session hosted by Baptist Health South Florida invited

As it ramps up for another Zika war this summer, Miami-Dade plans to hire a full-time entomologist to help direct the fight against the mosquito-borne virus that has helped push tourism spending into its worst decline since the Great Recession.

The hiring of an insect scientist reflects the increasingly pricey effort by Miami-Dade to prevent Zika outbreaks once the rainy days of summer arrive. Miami-Dade’s latest estimate of the Zika plan is nearly $30 million since Zika-infested mosquitoes were discovered in the county last summer, with Florida reimbursing about $19 million of that.

“We’ve kicked up our efforts a lot,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “We’re going to do everything in our power not to have a Zika zone. But a lot of that is out of our control.”

Gimenez faced criticism last year for not pumping more dollars into Miami-Dade’s mosquito-control division in the first half of 2016 as Zika loomed as a threat. The county’s first Zika outbreak occurred in late July. The cluster of Zika infections in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood sparked the first in a string of travel warnings from federal health officials that urged pregnant women to stay out of several zones within Miami-Dade labeled as suffering from an outbreak of the virus.

Miami-Dade was the only county in the United States under a Zika warning last year, and Gimenez poured millions into the increasing battle with the virus, which is linked to birth defects. The latest accounting of the budget, which includes future spending, is outlined in a contracting request approved Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Commission. The request asks for retroactive approval of a string of Zika-related contracts and other agreements.

We’re going to do everything in our power not to have a Zika zone. But a lot of that is out of our control.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Totaling $29.7 million since June 2016, the spending includes $22 million on pest-control staff to track down mosquito breeding grounds and apply insecticide. The insecticide bill hit $5 million alone, including soluble larvicide bricks for 150,000 storm drains. In his memo to county commissioners, Gimenez said Miami-Dade conducted nearly 51,000 mosquito inspections in the county’s four Zika zones during the five-month period between the initial outbreak on July 23 and the end of 2016. Miami-Dade’s last Zika zone, in Miami’s Little River neighborhood, was lifted on Dec. 6.

An Gimenez spokesman said the county has spent about $25 million on Zika so far, with the $29.7 million figure covering some future expenses that Miami-Dade will ask Florida to cover.

Miami-Dade’s hotel tax revenue has been dropping since last fall, ending a streak of growth largely unbroken since the recession brought on by the 2008 global financial crisis. “It’s a financial hit for Miami-Dade,” Gimenez said of Zika. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive.”

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