As the summer creeps closer, Wynwood landlords and tenants who want to avoid another round of the Zika virus and its impact on business got a sobering dose of reality on Wednesday.
During a regular meeting of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, state health officials and city officials told the board and more than two dozen attendees that the only way to combat the spreading of the mosquito-and-sexually transmitted disease in the coming months is through preventative measures such as wearing bug spray and removing standing water that serves as insect breeding grounds.
“The risk is always there,” said Isabel Griffin, an epidemiologist who works in the Miami office of the Florida Department of Health.
“The mosquito is not going anywhere,” added Miami Wynwood NET office administrator Sharie Blanton: “As residents, this is the new normal.”
In late July of last year, a 1.5 square mile area that mostly included Wynwood, but also parts of Midtown Miami and the Design District, was ground zero for the first outbreak of a locally transmitted strain of the Zika virus, which has been linked to causing brain damage in unborn babies. A high number of locally transmitted Zika infections were subsequently detected in other neighborhoods such as South Beach, Mid-Beach and Little River. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued travel warnings to pregnant women to avoid these neighborhood.
Local businesses, from restaurants to hotels to property management companies, blamed the warning and relentless media coverage for a huge drop in tourists and visitors to Wynwood, South Beach and other Zika designated areas. This past September, Gov. Rick Scott held a press conference at Wynwood Walls to announce the neighborhood was Zika-free.
During a powerpoint presentation on Wednesday, Griffin displayed graphs showing 25 of the 38 Zika cases in Wynwood were located in three business establishments, although the venues were not identified. One business, outdoor venue Wynwood Yard, did go public after the operator closed down for a brief period of time in order for its employees to get tested and to install mosquito mitigation measures.
“Being outside was a big reason for the Zika outbreak,” Griffin said. “It’s a major occupational risk.” The epidemiologist said Wynwood retail stores, bars and restaurants have to be vigilant about removing standing water and instructing employees and patrons to wear bug repellent and wear clothes that cover their arms and legs.
Wynwood BID board member Albert Garcia said neighborhood stakeholders have to apply common sense in dealing with Zika. “We are not taking it lightly,” he said. “But we are also carrying on with our lives.”