Governor Rick Scott announced at an Orlando press conference Friday that there have been four confirmed cases of what officials believe to be the Zika virus in south Florida, all in the same one-mile radius just north of downtown Miami.
The cases include one woman and three men, Scott said, and none of them had symptoms that required hospitalization as of Friday morning. The virus likely came from mosquito bites in all four cases, he said.
Florida Department of Health Communications Director Mara Gambineri said in an email that they could not confirm nor deny if the female Zika patient was pregnant.
In addition, he said the state still hadn’t found any mosquitoes carrying the virus in the state. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said the state had tested 19,000 mosquitoes in traps specifically made for catching the types of mosquitoes that can carry Zika.
Scott said Florida was taking “an aggressive approach” to fighting the virus, and that he had used his executive authority to allot $26 million to respond to the Zika virus. Florida, he said, has the capacity to test 6,609 people for active Zika virus, and 2,059 for Zika antibodies. In total, they have tested 2,329 people across the state, and if they need more test kits, they plan to request them.
He also said the federal government needed to step up, too.
“The president called me and said he would send $5.6 million to fight the Zika virus,” Scott said. “Which is a start. I expected Congress to do more. The federal government needs to do its part.”
Precautions against the Zika virus, according to Scott as well as Putnam and Surgeon General Celeste Philip, include the usual: dump any standing water on your property, and use insect repellent whenever possible. Pregnant women or women planning to be pregnant, they said, should use extra caution.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to protect pregnant women and the babies growing inside them,” Philip said.
In response to questions regarding other nations in South America that have had larger numbers of reported Zika cases, Putnam said there were significant differences between those nations and Florida.
“The overwhelming number of air conditioners, well-sealed houses and screens,” he said. “Let’s be very clear about that. The opportunity for habitat in Florida, while Florida is a warm, wet, tropical climate, is very different than the nations that have seen much, much higher instances of the Zika spread, largely because of higher standards of living in the state of Florida, when you look at well-tended lawns, screens, wide spread accessibility of repellent.”
In a news release issued Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Barack Obama and Congress to provide funding to combat Zika, and said something needed to be done before more people contracted the virus.
“The news is disturbing, but no one should be surprised,” he said. “I’ve been warning Congress for months that we would eventually have locally transmitted cases of Zika virus in the United States, and sadly that has now become a reality. We need to prepare ourselves for more locally transmitted cases to emerge in the weeks ahead. All of us must redouble our efforts to protect our families from mosquitoes and, wherever possible, to prevent water from pooling where mosquitoes might breed.”
All three of the officials who spoke Friday shared Rubio’s serious concern. But overall, the tone exuded by Scott, Putnam and Philip was one of optimism – Florida has a good record of mosquito control, Scott said, and they’ll be relentless in fighting the Zika virus.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs sat in on a round table discussion with Scott and other local leaders later, and afterward, she said she had no problem calling Florida an extremely safe place to visit for those who might be apprehensive with the news of the virus’ arrival.
“If you’re coming here as a tourist to visit our theme parks, you’re coming to the safest place in the world,” she said. “Our theme parks have mosquito control like nowhere else.”
And moreso, she said, Orange County government and its citizens have already shown they can work together effortlessly – so there’s nothing to fear, so far as the Zika virus goes, Jacobs said.
“I’m confident we can do this because I know about what kind of a community we have here,” she said. “I don’t think anyone doubts that after Pulse.”
Those who want to be tested for Zika virus were encouraged to contact their local county health departments.