Editorials

Congress must act — Zika has arrived

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The female Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the Zika virus.
The female Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the Zika virus. Miami Herald Files

Bad news — they’re here. The Zika-carrying mosquitoes — despite all the spraying — have arrived in Miami-Dade County, responsible for at least four local victims contracting the disease. They are the first to be infected by mosquitoes in the continental United States.

And the situation grew more dire Monday morning. The number of local Zika cases jumped to 14 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory warning pregnant women to avoid visiting sections of Miami.

What do we do now?

First, Florida needs to make a specific request for federal funding. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Editorial Board on Sunday that the department, so far, hasn’t received one. Why this dangerous delay?

Second, the do-nothing Congress, which went on recess before approving adequate funding to bombard the infected stingers wreaking havoc in the region, should come back early and lift a finger to protect the public.

That was the unequivocally strong message from Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday, as local and state health officials, along with Gov. Rick Scott, confirmed that the newest cases are people who had not traveled and been infected abroad. That means that now you can catch the virus just by stepping out of your house and encountering the wrong kind of mosquito.

“Congressional members should go back to Washington and approve additional funding before this becomes a full-blown problem,” Sen. Rubio said. “We have waited far too long to address this issue.”

We could not agree more and commend him for his well-placed concern. In June, the Editorial Board urged Sen. Rubio to be a forceful voice for the well-being of his constituents, so it’s good to hear his clarion call.

Now, he, along with Gov. Scott, needs to be equally committed to jettisoning the politics that have been injected into stemming a potential crisis and work to get a clean funding bill passed in Congress, not one larded with nonrelated items from the GOP’s agenda. That’s what did in the most recent attempt to secure funding. Democrats balked at the bills that included measures that would make it more difficult for women trying to access contraceptive services through Planned Parenthood and similar organizations and cut $540 million from the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Health And Human Services says that this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has moved $8 million for Florida in the fight against Zika. The money can, among other things, enhance mosquito control and monitoring, provide epidemiology and laboratory staff, equipment and supplies, and help contribute data to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry. Zika causes brain-damaging microcephaly in women’s fetuses. In addition, the CDC awarded on July 1 about $27 million to the state in Public Health Emergency Preparedness funding, which can be used to support Zika response efforts.

Now the onus is on the state of Florida to come through with a formal funding request. The delay is irresponsible.

Before Friday’s troubling revelation, Florida had 300-plus Zika cases, more than any other state.

Back in February, President Obama asked Congress for $1.8 billion to fight Zika. But Congress sat on its hands, while the Obama administration shifted $510 million for Ebola to fight Zika, a stopgap measure.

The Senate eventually cut the president’s request to $1.1 billion, while the House allocated only $662 million. But the chambers, ultimately, approved nothing.

Blame the House for its attempt at legislative blackmail by attaching poison-pill provisions that Republicans knew Democrats would never accept — which is unacceptable.

We need funds to stage a D-Day on these mosquitoes. As Sen. Rubio reminded fellow lawmakers: “This is not a partisan issue; Zika bites everyone.”

This editorial has been updated.

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