CDC lifts travel ban as Miami neighborhood declared Zika free

MIAMI — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its travel warning for Miami's Wynwood neighborhood Monday after Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared the area free of the Zika virus.

Scott urged tourists and residents to return to the area, which has suffered a sharp drop in business while under federal and state travel warnings for nearly two months.

Miami became the first U.S. city where Zika was transmitted locally by mosquitoes. That prompted state officials to create a warning box around the Wynwood community to show where the virus was spreading. It also led the CDC to issue a travel warning for pregnant women and their partners from entering that box.

On Monday, Scott said the neighborhood had not recorded a case of local Zika transmission in 45 days, clearing the way to remove the box.

"Everybody should be coming back here and enjoying themselves," Scott said.

Even though the CDC lifted its travel warning for Wynwood, it still advises visitors and residents to take care to avoid mosquito bites in all of Miami-Dade County.

"We understand that this has been a difficult time for Wynwood residents and visitors," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Still, we encourage people not to let down their guard. We could see additional cases."

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus, which produces mild symptoms but can cause birth defects if pregnant women are infected.

The lifting of the state travel warning was welcome news for city officials and business owners like Joseph Furst, who said they have "suffocated" during the 49 days that the travel warning was in effect.

Furst, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District and a managing partner in a company that manages more than 100 properties in the neighborhood, said his businesses and tenants have seen 50% drops in business during the seven weeks of travel warnings.

Wynwood is a former warehouse district that has blossomed into a vibrant artists' enclave featuring many outdoor restaurants, bars and studios.

Albert Garcia, the district's vice chairman, echoed that message. "We are open," he said. "We are safe."

The news doesn't mean that Zika has been eradicated throughout South Florida. Florida health officials continue diagnosing the virus in locals who have returned from traveling overseas. And just across Biscayne Bay, a growing segment of Miami Beach continues to see local transmission of Zika.

The state expanded the Miami Beach Zika zone Friday, declaring that mosquitoes are actively transmitting the virus in a 4.5 square-mile portion of the tourist haven. Officials are using controversial aerial mosquito spraying and door-to-door checks of buildings to remove standing water that serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Wynwood showed how a neighborhood can fight back Zika if government officials work with locals to minimize the chances of the virus spreading.

"If you don’t get bit, you’re not going to get Zika," Gimenez said. "That is the key. That is the message."

KREM


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