By David Smiley and Daniel Chang
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared Monday morning during a visit to Wynwood that the artsy Miami neighborhood is Zika-free _ 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, where he was joined by area 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 since early August _ meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's standards for suggesting that mosquito-borne transmission of the disease is no longer occurring.
In late July, the Wynwood neighborhood, known for its graffiti murals and art galleries, became the first place in the nation identified as having 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.
The designation as an active Zika zone, along with an unprecedented domestic travel advisory from the CDC warning pregnant women and their partners to avoid the area, dealt a significant blow to business in the tourist-dependent neighborhood just north of downtown Miami.
So the state's announcement Monday came as good news to local entrepreneurs and politicians _ even if no one from CDC was present at the governor's press conference, and the agency continues to urge caution.
CDC Director Tom Frieden issued a written statement shortly after the governor's press conference on Monday, announcing that the federal agency was adjusting its travel advisory and acknowledging the economic impacts 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 following the governor's announcement.
The agency still advises pregnant women and their partners living or traveling in the area to take steps to prevent mosquito bites, and it still recommends that anyone who has traveled to the Wynwood area between June 15 and Sept. 18 wait at least 8 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 September 18 should wait at least 6 months before trying to get their partner pregnant, the CDC said.
Prior to the CDC's adjusting its travel advisory for Zika in Wynwood, local business owners expressed optimism that the health department has not reported any new infections in the area in 45 days, or the time it takes for three mosquito incubation periods.
"Based on this declaration today, it's our understanding that the CDC will move swiftly and promptly to remove that box," said Albert Garcia, vice chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District. "We served as the welcome mat for Zika, and today we say 'Thank you for visiting, carry on.'"
Joined by the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County, Scott was at Wynwood Walls to declare that Wynwood had gone 45 days without a new locally contracted case of Zika, the timeframe set forth by the CDC for the lifting of its travel advisory warning pregnant women and their partners to stay away. He called on visitors to return to the neighborhood.
"Moving forward this is great news. This is a really great day for Wynwood," Scott said from within a paint-splattered gallery.
Entrepreneurs and politicians have circled Sept. 19 recently as the date when they hoped the federal government would lift the advisory, instituted just days after Scott announced in July that at least two people had contracted Zika from mosquitoes carrying the virus in the neighborhood. Wynwood became the first community in the country where mosquitoes were believed to carry the virus, which often causes no symptoms but can cause birth defects if contracted by pregnant women.
Most of Miami Beach, however, remains a "Zika zone." County officials are continuing to spray insectides over South Beach, and are using ground crews to tackle the northern portion of the city. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says Zika is expected to cost the county about $10 million by the end of the month.
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