As an afternoon storm blew through downtown Orlando, Florida Senator Bill Nelson addressed a group of reporters at his regional office Friday and called for more funding from the government to fight mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus that can come with such storms.
The Zika virus has been spreading in a way Nelson and other worried officials call “a full-blown crisis.”
And Congress, Nelson said, isn’t doing enough. He stated that they had been acting “irresponsibly” by not giving enough funding to adequately fight the virus.
Government officials know that there’s a connection between having the virus, being pregnant and a baby being born with deformities. Nelson rattled off statistics — Zika cases have doubled in cases in Puerto Rico and tripled in the number of pregnant women in the U.S.
Nelson said one of the most effective ways to combat the spread aside from better health care was killing mosquitoes.
“To get at it, we have to do one of several things,” he said. “We wait until a vaccine is developed, or we have to wipe out the strain of mosquitoes that carries this virus. There’s a gene-altering technique to make sure the males can’t reproduce.”
In particular, Nelson singled out Osceola County, which is in need of funding for mosquito control which the government has not yet granted.
“Congress needs to go back to local governments,” he said. “Osceola County needs help. We’ve run out of funds for mosquito control, and we have the summer rains coming. If we don’t do something, there will be mosquitoes all over the southern United States and up into Pennsylvania. We have 67 counties in Florida. All of them need funding for mosquito control.”
An emergency funding request from Osceola County seeks $889,000 to help fight Zika. The application is broken down into components: additional staff to perform daytime sweeps and Larvicide, funding for increased aerial spraying, additional backpack sprayers, extra on-hand fuels and chemicals, a private contractor for tire pile removal, five spray trucks to increase adulticide treatments countywide, and additional funding for spray driver pool.
He called the House legislation currently circulating “one little shaky step forward,” as it won’t provide nearly enough funding for mosquito control as is needed. Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio requested $1.9 billion, and the House has only proposed setting aside $622 million for mosquito control. Nelson called their proposal “totally unacceptable.” The Senate passed $1.1 billion to help fight the spread of the virus earlier this week.
But to Nelson, that signals more of the same: legislators are pinching their pockets and being conservative with spending in the face of a grave threat.
“Washington D.C. is not serious,” Nelson said. “You know when they’ll get serious? When moms in their area start having babies with terrible deformities. Then it will be serious.”