Yesterday the Florida Department of Health announced that there was a high likelihood that four cases of the Zika virus in the Miami-Dade County area were due to local transmission. This marks the first time that non-travel related cases were found in the continental United States. There are currently just under 400 cases of Zika confirmed in the state that are travel-related (contracted due to travel in areas outside of the continental United States). The Health Department will continue to update its Zika virus information each weekday at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
At this time the area of transmission is quite small – roughly one square mile. However, two of the infected individuals live in neighboring Broward County. The Department has instituted a serious canvass effort in the transmission area to determine if there are additional cases that have not caught the attention of medical personnel (which was the situation for the four cases reported to date). As the mosquito bites that transmitted the virus took place in early July, additional cases seem likely. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not anticipate widespread transmission at the present time.
As of July 27, there were 1,658 cases of Zika in the continental United States and Hawaii, all of which were travel related (thought some cases were spread via sex or in one case, a laboratory accident). However, the situation in Puerto Rico is serious, with over 5,500 cases in the commonwealth as of July 7. The CDC has been working with Puerto Rican health agencies for months, but its impact has been limited.
As Congress is not in session (and won’t be until September), the anemic federal response (mainly redirecting unspent money for the Ebola virus) will continue. Members of Congress from Florida have been diligent in advocating for funding, and the Obama Administration had provided $8 million before the President informed Governor Scott that another $5.6 million was on the way. It’s a lot less than what share Florida would receive under the various Zika aid packages that Congress tried and failed to pass earlier this year.
That said, I would expect the newly reported cases would spur some action, even if it’s only campaign rhetoric in connection with the upcoming elections. Florida is once again expected to be a major battleground in the presidential race, and it would not surprise me to see one or both of the major party candidates to try and wring some advantage from the situation. Whether it will be well informed remains to be seen, but the campaign to date leaves me skeptical.
The change in action following the Florida cases, however slight, will also point out the dramatic difference in attention that our outlying territories receive compared to the states. Congressional representation matters, especially in situations like this.