1. Florida Politics

Gov. Rick Scott declares Wynwood area 'Zika-free'; CDC says 'don't let guard down'

Published Sep. 20, 2016

MIAMI — Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared Miami's Wynwood neighborhood Zika-free on Monday, urging visitors to return to the struggling entertainment district even as federal health officials continued to advise that pregnant women and their partners consider postponing "nonessential travel" to all parts of Miami-Dade County.

"Everybody should be coming back here and enjoying themselves," Scott said during a news conference at Wynwood Walls, an outdoor venue showcasing colorful street murals, where he was joined by business owners, elected officials and representatives from the health department.

Scott's visit to Miami came as the Florida Department of Health announced that no new local infections of Zika have been reported in the Wynwood area for 45 days, meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's standards for suggesting mosquito-borne transmission of the disease is no longer occurring.

In late July, the Wynwood neighborhood, which has nurtured a reputation as an arts destination, became the first place in the nation identified as having a mosquito-borne spread of Zika, which poses the greatest risk to pregnant women and their developing fetuses because it is known to cause severe birth defects and neurological disorders.

Since then, state health officials have identified two additional areas in Miami Beach where mosquitoes are spreading Zika. The first area, between Eighth and 28th streets from the ocean to Biscayne Bay, was identified Aug. 19. The second area, announced on Friday, extends the zone north to 63rd Street.

In addition, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has reported finding five batches of mosquitoes in Miami Beach that tested positive for Zika virus. State and county officials have refused to identify all but one of the locations: the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, which had been closed three days prior to the agriculture department's first announcement on Sept. 1.

The Miami Herald filed suit on Friday against Miami-Dade, seeking to force the county to disclose records showing the locations where mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been trapped.

As more local Zika infections have cropped up in Miami Beach and other unidentified areas of Miami-Dade, Wynwood-area business owners say they have suffered through a significant slump as a result of the unprecedented domestic travel advisory from the CDC warning pregnant women and their partners to avoid the area.

So the state's announcement Monday came as good news to local entrepreneurs and politicians — even if no one from the CDC was present at the governor's news conference, and the agency continues to urge caution.

CDC director Tom Frieden issued a written statement shortly after the governor's appearance Monday, announcing that the federal agency was adjusting its travel advisory and acknowledging the economic impact that such a declaration can bring.

"Still, we encourage people not to let down their guard," Frieden said in the statement. "We could see additional cases."

The CDC's guidance for Wynwood, first adopted on Aug. 1, did not change significantly after the governor's announcement.

The federal agency still advises men and women who are asymptomatic and who have traveled to the Wynwood area between June 15 and Sunday wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant.

Men who had signs or symptoms of Zika or were diagnosed with Zika and who traveled to the area from June 15 to Sunday should wait at least six months before trying to get their partner pregnant, the CDC said. The virus lives longer in semen.

Prior to Monday's declaration from the governor, the state health department had been reducing the size of Wynwood's Zika zone until it covered less than half of the original area. But the CDC's guidance remained unchanged that pregnant women should avoid the entire 1-square-mile zone.

Florida health officials said they are "closely monitoring" Wynwood for any new mosquito-borne Zika infections, but declined to say they had officially closed their investigation. Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the health department, said there are no more Zika test results pending from the agency's Wynwood investigation.