By Jenny Staletovich
Another corner of Miami's Wynwood neighborhood was removed from the Zika hot zone Thursday even as the number of local cases jumped by three.
Gov. Rick Scott announced that the Florida Department of Health had given the all-clear sign for four square blocks in the southwest corner of the arts district, south of Northwest 22nd Street and east of Northwest Fifth Avenue. Scott also said three new local cases were confirmed in the neighborhood, bringing the total in South Florida to 25.
Last week, health officials cleared a 10-square-block area in the northwest corner. Despite the state health findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to warn pregnant women to steer clear of a one square-mile area in the trendy district.
The warning has angered local business owners who say patrons are staying away even though active transmissions remain linked to a single cluster with a 500-foot radius. Health officials extended the warning to the square-mile area that includes Midtown to account for the distance the Aedes aegypti mosquito typically travels.
In addition to the local cases, health officials Thursday afternoon reported 21 new travel-related cases with 17 in Broward, two in Hernando, one in Miami-Dade and one in Seminole counties. In all, Florida now has 440 travel and local cases.
The continuing toll of new cases has led to some tense moments between government officials and a public complaining about vague information. At a meeting with a state health investigator and county mosquito control officials Wednesday, business owners complained that efforts to inspect and clear areas were dragging while broad warnings were causing unfounded panic. On Thursday, county officials with the mosquito control division and mayor's office again failed to respond to a Miami Herald request for daily reports on mosquito control.
Zika will force Miami-Dade to spend about four times more than it planned fight mosquitoes into the fall, with $8 million slated for aerial insecticide and dozens of contractors inspecting properties for the insects and spraying treatment, the county's mayor said Thursday.
The figure, shared during a Twitter session on Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2017 budget, revealed just how dramatically Zika has thrust Miami-Dade into a summer mosquito battle at a time when the county was drawing unfavorable comparisons to smaller jurisdictions with much larger budgets for fighting insects.
When asked Wednesday why more information could not be passed along, FDOH investigator Isabel Griffin said the agency was bound by privacy laws.
"This is a group effort," she said. "This is not up to Miami-Dade mosquito control and the Florida Department of Health. This is up to you all."
But officials have largely avoided providing specifics about measures. A request sent by the Herald on Monday was not answered until Wednesday, and included outdated information. Mosquito division manager Chalmers Vasquez and senior division manager Lee Casey refused to answer questions after the Wednesday meeting.
The arts district became the focus of the Zika outbreak in early August when health officials identified a cluster of transmissions. The warning, the only such travel warning in the United States, recommends pregnant women avoid the area and other visitors take precautions, including applying repellent or wearing pants and clothes with long sleeves. In the days since, business owners say streets have emptied out and worry that Saturday's upcoming ArtWalk, which can double profits for some businesses, will be a bust.
Last week, Della Heiman temporarily closed her business, Wynwood Yard and Della Test Kitchen, after several employees complained of symptoms. More than 65 employees were eventually tested, she said, with two testing positive. On Wednesday, she reopened, with new mosquito control measures in place and a thank-you to loyal customers: free menu samples.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Thursday he'd hoped to hear more good news at a meeting with Miami-Dade Health Department administrator Lillian Rivera and a doctor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the day before, but received conflicting information.
Regalado said the CDC believes Wynwood's Zika scare is winding down. But he said Rivera told him they "haven't found the source" of the outbreak and were not ready to lift a travel advisory for pregnant women.
"We didn't get any hope for Wynwood, which was our concern," he said.
But lifting the warning from four more blocks, an area that includes Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School and St. Agnes Episcopal Church, is a sign of progress, Scott said.
"It's great to announce that we are able to clear an additional four blocks," Scott said in a statement Thursday. "This means the area where we believe active transmissions are occurring in the state is significantly reducing."
Scott also repeated his criticism of the Obama administration and Congress, which he said has failed to respond to his request for more tests for pregnant women, which are being provided free at all county health departments, or additional money to fight the outbreak.
"The president and Congress must work together to get to a solution for all the families across our nation," he said.
An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported that a travel warning had been lifted for parts of Wynwood. The warning remains in place.
Miami Herald staff writers Doug Hanks and David Smiley contributed to this report.
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