Thursday, July 19, 2018
Health

Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach mayors say state told them to keep Zika mosquito sites secret

MIAMI — The mayors of Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach accuse the Florida Department of Health of lying after the state agency said last week that it never told local officials to hide the locations in Miami Beach where mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were captured.

Florida's health department strongly denied instructing local officials to keep the information confidential — and said the decision was entirely up to Miami-Dade — after the Miami Herald reported on Friday that a county attorney said the state agency had ordered them to keep it a secret.

The statement was made during a court hearing for the Miami Herald's lawsuit against Miami-Dade seeking the locations of traps in Miami Beach where mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were captured this month. The suit seeks disclosure of the locations on grounds that the information would help the public make decisions about precautions to take if they live or work nearby, and also inform the community debate on the use of the controversial insecticide naled.

On Sunday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is facing a runoff election in November, pushed back against the Florida health department's denial with a written statement repeating that the agency had ordered secrecy in regards to the locations.

"During multiple meetings, phone calls and conversations, officials from the Florida Department of Health explicitly stated to county officials that information identifying the addresses of traps containing mosquitoes positive for the Zika virus is confidential during active, ongoing epidemiological investigations," Gimenez said in the statement.

"It is disturbing that the Florida Department of Health is denying previous directives to maintain confidentiality of the trap locations," Gimenez said in the statement. "At the end of the day, this is about the health and safety of our community, and we have been carrying out the express orders of the Florida Department of Health as it relates to disclosure of mosquito-trap information."

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine corroborated Gimenez's statement, which added that the state health department had ordered the information kept secret to protect the privacy of residents living in the areas where Zika-positive mosquitoes were captured.

Levine said he was present when Florida health department officials, including Miami-Dade Director Lillian Rivera and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip, instructed county and city officials not to disclose the locations. He said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also told him that the health department had ordered the information remain confidential.

"Mayor Gimenez is only doing what the state told him, his staff, me and my entire staff, specifically, that they would not permit the county to release the information on the locations," Levine said Sunday. "Lillian Rivera said it multiple times that she has been instructed and the department of health will not permit the locations of the traps to be released. That's No. 1. No. 2, I remember hearing the state surgeon general saying it directly to us, Celeste Philip. And No. 3, Adam Putnam told me and the city manager directly in my office that. In fact, I reaffirmed it with Commissioner Putnam on the phone the other day, and he was dumbfounded."

Representatives for Florida's department of health and agriculture did not immediately respond to the Herald's request for comment on the mayors' statements. Jennifer Meale, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, replied to the Herald's request in an email Sunday.

Meale's statement: "In consultation with the Department of Health, we believe the locations of the traps are exempt per 381.0031(6), F.S.," a state statute governing information gathered during epidemiological investigations.

On Friday, the health department issued a written statement denying the agency ever muzzled the county.

"The statements made by the county today are completely false," Mara Gambineri, a health department spokeswoman, said in an email. "At no time did the Florida Department of Health instruct Miami-Dade County to withhold the location of mosquito traps. This is solely the decision of the county."

Miami-Dade remains the only place in the nation identified as having active spread of Zika by mosquitoes, specifically in a 4.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach between Eighth and 63rd streets from the ocean to the bay.

As of Friday, Florida's health department reported a total of 105 local mosquito-borne Zika infections, most of those in Miami-Dade. An additional 773 travel-related Zika cases also have been reported in Florida, including 90 pregnant women.

Contact Daniel Chang at [email protected] or 305-376-2012. Follow @dchangmiami.

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