By JENNIFER KAY
MIAMI – Authorities declared a victory Monday in stemming further infections of Zika in Miami’s Wynwood arts district, but continued to caution pregnant women about traveling to the city and surrounding areas out of concerns for catching the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted a warning for pregnant women to stay out of the Wynwood neighborhood altogether, saying it was no longer a zone of active transmission. They credited aerial spraying of pesticides targeting the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.
In nearby Miami Beach, meanwhile, health officials have broadened their declared zone of active local transmission.
No new cases of Zika have been reported in Wynwood since early August. Health officials said that over the past several weeks, mosquito control workers there have seen fewer of the insects, the main culprits in spreading the virus.
“The message with Wynwood is it was a huge success,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC continues to advise pregnant women to consider postponing non-essential travel to all of Miami-Dade County – including Wynwood and Miami Beach.
Wynwood was the first place on the U.S. mainland where mosquitoes began transmitting Zika. CDC officials and Florida’s governor attributed the drop-off in infections there to aggressive aerial spraying with naled, an insecticide that targets adult mosquitoes, and street-level spraying with another pesticide that kills mosquito larva.
“This outbreak would have kept going without the aerial spraying,” Petersen said. Gov. Rick Scott said residents and business owners who kept their properties clear of standing water also helped.
“We’re doing everything we can to do educate the public and have the same success in Miami Beach as we have in Wynwood,” Scott said.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson joined Governor Rick Scott to announce that following 45 days with no evidence of active Zika transmission, the entire Wynwood travel ban zone, which was originally about one square mile, has been lifted. Governor Scott thanked Congresswoman Wilson for her continued efforts to secure federal Zika funding.
“I am relieved that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has lifted the Wynwood travel ban so that this bustling neighborhood can return to a sense of normalcy,” said Congresswoman Wilson. “Wynwood is open for business….”
But despite months of public outreach and aggressive mosquito control measures, including the removal of cylinder-shaped tropical plants that trap water where insects can breed, Florida health officials have continued to find Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Miami Beach, where some residents have objected to the aerial spraying of naled. The city’s infection zone has expanded from just South Beach to a 4.5-square-mile (12-square kilometer) area encompassing most of 7mile-long (11-kilometer long) island, Scott’s office announced late Friday.
Miami Beach’s tall buildings and ocean breezes make aerial spraying there more difficult than in Wynwood, Petersen said.
A plane contracted by Miami-Dade County mosquito control officials sprayed naled over South Beach on Sunday. It was the city’s third aerial spraying. A fourth is scheduled Saturday.
Of 85 non-travel-related Zika cases in Florida residents, 31 were associated with Wynwood and 36 with Miami Beach, Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email Monday. Another 10 people who aren’t Florida residents also have contracted Zika in the state.
Zika infections are mild for most people but can cause severe brain-related birth defects, including a dangerously small head, if women are infected during pregnancy. Dr. Celeste Philip, Florida’s surgeon general, said the state is trying to speed up processing for Zika tests for pregnant women.
“We have purchased additional lab equipment, and we have additional personnel from CDC. We’ve also hired additional staff to run more tests at the same time,” she said. Local officials and business leaders joined Scott at a Wynwood art gallery to try and reassure residents and tourists fearful of Zika. “It’s a great day in Wynwood. Everybody, please come back,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
Zak Stern was offering free lunches for pregnant women visiting his Wynwood bakery, Zak the Baker, to celebrate the state’s announcement. He couldn’t estimate how much Zika had impacted his business, but he questioned whether the response to the outbreak was proportionate to the risk.
“The business owners, they were trying to make it seem like it’s not such a big deal. The government was trying to show that they were doing something. The press was trying to show a story. The public was stuck in the middle, misinformed and afraid,” Stern said. Stern lives just north of the expanded infection zone in Miami Beach, and his wife is due to give birth in about a month. He said the couple has tried to balance Zika with other safety recommendations for pregnant women.
“They tell you that you can’t eat sushi, and they tell you that you can’t eat soft cheese, and they tell that you can’t drink, right? And now they’re telling you that you can’t go outside,” he said. “Zika or no Zika, things can happen.”