Miami's Wynwood neighborhood has become the site of the first outbreak of locally-transmitted Zika virus in the United States and the target of a travel warning by the federal government. Now it has become a campaign stop.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton went to the trendy neighborhood, known for its graffiti, art galleries and restaurants, and stopped at medical center treating local Zika cases — which are a big deal because they haven't come from South America, brought by travelers, but originate from mosquitoes native to the area.
Clinton spoke at a press conference from Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami, where patients with Zika from the Wynwood outbreak are being treated. She called the spread of Zika a "serious challenge" and said the issue needs to be addressed before it gets worse.
Almost 1,900 cases have been confirmed across the United States. Clinton spoke just after news broke that a baby died in Houston on Tuesday afternoon due to Zika-related birth defects. As anticipated, she criticized federal lawmakers for failing to agree on a bill to provide resources to respond to the threat of Zika.
"I'm very disappointed that the Congress went on recess before actually agreeing on what they would do to put the resources into this fight," Clinton said. "I would very much urge the leaders of Congress to call people back for a special session to get a bill that is focused on combating Zika, fast."
Just weeks before the outbreak in the north Miami neighborhood, Congress failed to agree on legislation to provide funding for Zika response. Republicans pushed a bill through the House this summer for $1.1 billion in funding focused on vaccine and mosquito control, but barred Planned Parenthood from receiving money. Senate Democrats blocked the bill from passing before the July recess.
"Zika is real. It's dangerous. And if we're serious about stopping this epidemic in its tracks, then there's no time to waste," Clinton wrote in an op-ed published in the Sun-Sentinel in June urging Congress to act.
At least 16 people have contracted the virus as a result of the local outbreak, which officials determined was the first time Zika has been transmitted locally by mosquitoes in the continental US. One new case in Palm Beach County is currently being analyzed to determine whether the virus was contracted in Miami. There are now upwards of 350 Zika cases in Florida that were contracted outside the US.
Zika first grabbed international attention in 2015 after an increase in microcephaly in babies — meaning they are born with smaller heads and brains — in Brazil, was linked to transmission of the virus in the country. The virus was first discovered in 1947 and is spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
In the two weeks since experts determined that Zika-infected mosquitos were in fact buzzing around Wynwood, Florida has called in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for backup and funding. The outbreak has dealt a blow to the popular neighborhood, between heavy mosquito spraying, news headlines, and an unprecedented travel warning from the CDC advising pregnant women not to go there. Earlier this month, the Miami Herald reported local businesses were already seeing a decline. (Zika-carrying mosquitoes typically do not travel far on their own from where they hatch, meaning the travel warning can be localized to a specific neighborhood rather than the entire city or state.)
In a report out this week, ratings agency Moody's warned that the outbreak and travel warnings could have an impact on travel, which would in turn affect Miami's tax revenues or credit ratings.
"Given that it is the low season for Florida … tourism, the current limited travel guidance is not likely to significantly affect these tax streams over the next few months," Moody's said. "If the guidance expands to include the entire city or remains in effect through the fall and into the high season of December to March, these revenue streams could experience declines."
The latest developments have sparked concern that Zika could also affect Florida's $82 billion tourism industry as a whole, with its 100 million visitors to the state each year.
For now state tourism boards and business have yet to report any major impacts as a result of the Zika outbreak, although some reports of hotel cancellations have surfaced. The most recent tourism figures for the travel period spanning April through June will be released later this month, according to Visit Florida, the state's official tourism resource.
Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel said the organization had received less than a dozen inquiries from consumers about Zika virus.
"We have every confidence in our county's public health system and its ability to manage any developments swiftly and effectively," Aguel said.
Governor Rick Scott has made a point to emphasize that Florida is still a "safe state" to visit, while stressing the small size of the outbreak zone, just one square mile.
While the state has not seen any immediate effects, World Travel & Tourism Council's research director Rochelle Turner said she expected Florida to at least see short term effects from the outbreak.
"Florida is going to have an impact from Zika, the more media coverage and the scare stories that come out," she said.
According to Turner, Zika has had serious impacts on tourism in other countries, but the negative effects lessened once the media attention died down. The US Virgin Islands, she said, had a high number of cancellations when the virus was first found there in January, but since then bookings have stabilized.