The zone of active transmission of Zika virus in Miami Beach has tripled to now encompass two thirds of the seaside city.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the expansion late Friday evening in a news release. The zone now stretches from 8th Street to 63rd Street — a 4.5-square-mile zone covering all of South and Middle Beach.
The Florida Department of Health has identified five people who all experienced symptoms within one month of each other — three of them in the newly expanded area, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
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The evening announcement extended the nation’s second designated Zika so far north that it now covers virtually all of Miami Beach, the heart of Miami-Dade’s tourism industry as the slow summer season gives way to the busier vacation stretch of the fall and winter. By dramatically expanding the beach’s Zika zone, Scott has ramped up an area of caution that already has hotels warning of sharp slowdowns and elected leaders pleading with Florida and Washington for financial help if the region’s economy suffers the severe hit they fear might be coming.
Miami Beach began the day with some unsettling Zika news: two new cases in the original zone, south of 28th Street. Hours later, Scott announced the expanded zone and a total of five cases.
The number of locally transmitted cases is now 93, which includes at least 10 people who live outside the state but acquired the virus here.
Mayor Philip Levine was notified by Miami-Dade officials after Scott’s news release. He told the Miami Herald that code enforcement will immediately start sweeping the expanded zone for standing water, and truck spraying of larvicide will begin Saturday.
“We have a serious problem,” he said. “Once again, we must take all reasonable and safe action to eliminate this. This is a problem.”
Levine said the aerial spraying already scheduled for 6 a.m. Sunday will continue to target the area between 8th and 28th streets.
The governor said he was he was going to ask for more help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I am asking the CDC to provide Florida with an additional epidemiologist to support DOH’s efforts to combat and contain Zika and host a call with community leaders and clinicians in Miami Beach to answer questions and provide the latest guidance on Zika,” Scott said.
The announcement will likely be followed an expanded travel advisory warning pregnant women not go to active transmission zones.
In his statement, Scott said the state expects to lift the transmission zone in Wynwood, where a cluster of local cases first emerged in late July, on Monday. The lifting would come 45 days after the most recent infection in that area — a crucial countdown that has even begun in Miami Beach.
Gimenez said that the new Zika zone stems from a pair of infections on Labor Day and another one five days later Sept. 9.
93 Number of confirmed cases of non-travel related Zika in Florida as of Friday night
Friday night’s news followed the confirmation of a fifth sample of Zika-positive mosquitoes trapped in South Beach.
As the zone grows and public health concerns mount, Zika is already affecting the local tourist economy — with one hotel reporting its worst three-week period in the past 15 years, according to the Miami Beach city manager’s office.
Since the local outbreak first was announced July 29, the county has been trying to control the mosquito population, monitoring 19 mosquito traps throughout South Beach. State officials have tested more than 52,000 mosquitoes since May in 3,200 sample groups, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. But of the five positive samples, only one location has been made public — the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, which had to close for a week to be treated for mosquitoes.
On Friday, the Herald filed suit against Miami-Dade County, seeking to force the release of records indicating the locations of the other traps.
South Beach has been mired in controversy since the county began aerial spraying to reduce the mosquito population. Protesters have filled City Hall twice to oppose the spraying of naled, a neurotoxin considered effective at killing the Aedes aegypti mosquito that can carry Zika. Officials say the low concentration of the insecticide does not pose a threat to people. Residents are reporting feeling ill after the spraying and seeing dead bees on the ground.
The county will aerially spray naled on Miami Beach again Sunday. The target area remains the South Beach portion of the zone, from Eighth to 28th streets, from the ocean to Biscayne Bay.
Gimenez has faced fierce criticism from some Beach residents and his reelection challenger, school-board member Raquel Regalado, over the aerial spraying. But Gimenez points to federal and state protocols calling for aerial spraying if mosquito counts continue to grow.
On Friday, Gimenez said there were no plans to expand aerial spraying into the new transmission zone. He said that step will depend on whether mosquito populations increase in the area.
“We don’t want to do aerial spraying,” he said. But, “we want to make sure we keep the mosquito count down in that area.”
People worried about spraying are advised to stay inside for one hour afterward.
During an afternoon conference call between Miami Beach and county officials Friday, some local hotels reported their business has taken a serious hit in the past month. Many have lost group bookings.
The Fontainebleau hotel told the city manager’s office it has had its worst three weeks in 15 years. The Carillon Resort had lost $100,000 in short-term cancellations. And owners of the Mandarin Oriental — which is on Brickell Key, not Miami Beach — were concerned about bookings for Art Basel, which are not coming in at their usual pace. Art Basel is an annual art fair held in South Beach, a marquee event during the first week of December.
On Friday morning, Scott authorized another $10 million in state funds to fight the mosquito-borne illness.
That brings the state’s total bill to $36.2 million, a news release said.
As Florida worries about Zika’s impact on public health and tourism, Congress has yet approve a funding package to bolster the state’s efforts to contain the virus.
“Zika is non-partisan and I have been very clear that something had to get done this week,” Scott said in a news release, after he attended meetings in Washington this week urging lawmakers to act. “While it doesn’t look like that is going to happen, I will not wait on the federal government to protect Floridians and our visitors.”
Scott’s office said the additional state money will be spent on mosquito control, increased lab capacity for testing and the purchase of Zika prevention kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.