Miami Beach

Zika: Two days, two different stories from the mayor of Miami Beach

hgabino@elnuevoherald.com

On Thursday, hours after the Miami Herald reported that Zika was being transmitted in Miami Beach, Mayor Philip Levine looked at the TV cameras and made a blunt statement.

“There is no epidemic, no outbreak of Zika on Miami Beach,” he told reporters at a press conference. He added there were two cases that had “not been confirmed for Miami Beach.”

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip announce on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, that there are five known Zika cases in Miami Beach, in a 1.5-square-mile transmission zone in the city.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott made a stop in Miami to make an announcement: There were five confirmed cases of Zika on the Beach and a new area of local transmission that covers the majority of the county’s tourism central — South Beach.

Was Levine spinning, or was he just ignorant of a burgeoning public health crisis in his own city?

On Friday, the mayor pleaded ignorance. In another press conference, he blamed lack of communication from Tallahassee for his own misstep. He said he didn’t know about the five cases before Scott’s announcement at noon Friday and insisted he had used the best information that was available to him at the time. He said he and city officials have been frustrated by lack of information from the state health department.

“All we got from the Florida Department of Health [on Thursday] was specifically saying there were two cases that may be linked to Miami Beach, but they are not confirmed,” he told the Miami Herald. “End of story. That is all of the information we were given.”

But Thursday morning — hours before the mayor faced the cameras — Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales had emailed commissioners and Levine that state health officials had reported that “two Zika cases have been linked to Miami Beach.”

That was followed by reports in the Herald and the New York Times citing knowledgeable sources confirming the virus was being transmitted in the Beach. State health officials did not confirm that news Thursday, saying only that there were two more locally transmitted cases in Miami-Dade County. And the governor’s office confirmed Friday that it held a conference call with Miami-Dade officials after the public announcement.

On Thursday, Levine also said he had no complaints about the flow of information between the city and state health officials: “From our point of view, there’s no frustration. … We’re actually happy that they’re on it, and they’re doing the right thing.”

Friday, his story changed: “I was very frustrated because I would like better communication,” he said. “I know the city manager was frustrated.” Despite that, he said he did not regret his statements Thursday.

Commissioner Joy Malakoff defended Levine’s statements to the press, saying she believed he had to go with the best information he had.

“From what I gather, at the time that he spoke, he didn’t get a confirmation from the Department of Health or the CDC,” she said. “Maybe the agencies should have given him more information.”

Miami Beach sanitation workers ramped up efforts to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds in the wake of news that Zika cases have been identified in the region’s tourism capital. Workers with pressure washers pushed stagnant water into gu

But another colleague and known critic of the mayor, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, said Levine could’ve handled Thursday night differently.

“I think he should have gotten all the information before denying that there were a couple of cases because we knew there were two cases,” she said, referring to statements from the county and state that two local transmissions have been confirmed in Miami-Dade.

All three agreed that the flow of information from Tallahassee bureaucrats left a lot to be desired, particularly as worrisome residents call them for answers.

 

“The governor’s office is not communicating with me. He’s not communicating with our city manager. We don’t get the information,” Levine said. “The only information we get is from the Florida Department of Health as they are, I guess, allowed to give it to us based on what the governor tells them.”

He stopped short of saying he would demand a timeline of when Zika cases were first reported in Miami Beach:

“I’m not sure we can demand anything from the governor.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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