Zika cases climb as Scott reassures lawmakers
By Lloyd Dunkelberger
The News Service of Florida
With Florida’s Zika cases climbing to 422 on Friday, including another locally transmitted case, Gov. Rick Scott held a rare conference call with state lawmakers to outline continued efforts to limit the outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease that can cause birth defects.
Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who joined Scott on the call, said considering how many cases of travel-related Zika cases are in the state — 13 new travel-related cases were reported Friday — “we’re not surprised that we have local transmission” of the virus.
The state Department of Health, which Philip heads, on Friday identified another locally transmitted Zika case in Miami, bringing the total of local transmissions to 16.
Philip said Florida is relying on its successful experience with other mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever and chikungunya, to deal with the Zika outbreak.
“We have experience dealing with, identifying and controlling local transmission. So we are using that model as we move forward,” Philip said. “We’ve learned from those experiences.”
The new locally transmitted case was in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, where state and local officials have identified a 1-square mile zone to concentrate their efforts. Those efforts have included testing people who may have had contact with infected individuals and eradicating mosquitoes and mosquito breeding areas. Aerial spraying, which officials deem more effective than ground spraying, has begun and will continue in the area.
“We are doing all that we can in that 1-(square) mile area to increase efforts where we still think mosquitoes are breeding,” Philip said, saying the response plan is being coordinated among local officials, state health workers, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has recommended pregnant women avoid the Wynwood area, with director Thomas Frieden saying Thursday federal health officials remain concerned about Zika because it is the only known mosquito-borne disease that can cause birth defects. Of the 422 Zika cases in Florida, 55 involve pregnant women.
Scott has authorized $26.2 million in emergency funding to deal with the Zika outbreak.
But he has also sought more help from the federal government, asking this week for an additional 10,000 Zika prevention kits for pregnant women and reiterating his request for a plan to receive funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Scott said President Barack Obama promised him that at least $5.6 million in federal help would be coming, which Scott called a “good start” but said more needs to be done. Congress is in the middle of a seven-week recess after stalemating on Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in Zika funding.
“We don’t know if the federal government is going to ultimately be our partner and provide us with the resources we believe they should,” Scott told lawmakers in the conference call. “Whether they do or not, we’re going to spend the money we need to make sure all the people who live in our state are safe and the people who visit our state are safe.”