Zika jolts Miami neighborhood

MIAMI — In South Florida, the only thing moving faster than the Zika virus is news of the Zika virus.

Sharon Nagel, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, walks through the Wynwood neighborhood looking for mosquitoes or their breeding areas on July 30, 2016.

At The Butcher Shop Beer Garden & Grill in the Wynwood neighborhood of this southern city, business is already down 25% since word got out that the area is the first in the nation where local mosquitoes are transmitting Zika.

Bernard Goldstein, a manager at The Butcher Shop, said he set out mosquito repellent candles, provided servers with bottles of bug spray and held a staff meeting to explain the dangers of the virus to his 60 employees. But since the front of the restaurant has no wall, Goldstein said there’s only so much they can do to protect the open-air establishment.

“At first I thought it was South Beach playing a prank on us, trying to get the sales,” he said, referring to the tourist mecca a few miles east. “But yeah, I’m worried. I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”.

State health officials have pinpointed an area roughly one square mile wide just north of downtown Miami where Zika is being transmitted by mosquitoes. That location didn’t shock anybody in Miami, given what a popular destination the zone has become for locals and tourists coming from Latin American countries where the virus has spread.

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“We have so many people here who are native to countries where this virus is prevalent, a lot of people who travel back and forth, so I’m not surprised,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Wynwood is an old warehouse district that has turned into an artists’ enclave, filled with studios and outdoor restaurants and bars. Many of the the area’s buildings are covered in spray-painted murals, drawing crowds of people to pose for pictures under paintings of dragons, Bob Marley, smiling oranges and dismembered manatees.

Further north in the Design District, entire blocks have been filled with high-end furniture stores, posh art galleries and storefronts reading Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Prada. The area usually hosts walking tours and traveling wine tastings, events that could suffer from the news of Zika’s spread.

Some tourists walking around Wynwood on Monday evening shrugged at the threat of the virus. Florangel Quintana said she just moved to South Florida from Venezuela, where she’s seen Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other viruses cause widespread panic before petering out.

“Yes, you take precautions. But if I see a mosquito on my arm, I’ll kill it and go on with my life,” said Quintana, 50, as she crossed the street to continue window shopping.

Others were more cautious. Juliana Laham, a banker from São Paulo, Brazil, said she canceled her dinner plans in Wynwood on Monday the moment she heard about Zika being transmitted there. Laham said she wasn’t worried about any long-term damage from the virus, since she’s not pregnant or planning to be. But she looked at her husband and son and explained that she didn’t want to deal with any kind of fever while visiting Miami.

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“We don’t want to risk the rest of our vacation,” she said.

Gimenez said the county has been closely monitoring the outbreak and is following directions from the state Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said local officials will hold another meeting Tuesday to see if they need to begin aerial mosquito spraying. That might make citizens feel better, Gimenez said, but he warned that the tactic hasn’t proven effective against the type of mosquito that’s transmitting the Zika virus, another example of the difficulty of containing mosquito-borne viruses.

“Mankind has been at war with the mosquito for thousands of years, and they’re still here,” he said.

For now, he said he’s worried about the financial impact Zika would have on local businesses. And he worried that other cities around the state and the country aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.

“We’re not going to be the last one,” Gimenez said. “This is going to be a national issue.”.

Back in Wynwood, as a couple locals talked about the virus while waiting for the outdoor bar at Wood Tavern to open, it started to rain. Alexandra Altman looked up, raised her arms and smiled.

“Here’s my answer,” she said. “I’m dancing in the rain.”.

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