MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After going 45 days without any locally transmitted cases, Governor Rick Scott declared Monday that Wynwood was Zika free for the first time since earlier this summer.
“Today we can announce we have now been 45 days without any local transmission of Zika and so everybody should be coming back here and enjoying themselves,” said Scott.
In late July,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory warning pregnant women and their partners to stay away.
It was the first such advisory for Zika in the U.S., giving Wynwood the dubious distinction of being known as “Ground Zero” for the virus which can cause birth defects if contracted by pregnant women.
The CDC has now lifted its most severe travel advisory for Wynwood but they are still being cautious. They now say pregnant women and their partners living in or traveling to the area should take measures to prevent mosquito bites.
Health officials and elected leaders are reminding people to still take precautions.
“If you don’t get bit, you’re not going to catch Zika. If you don’t catch Zika, you’re not going to transmit it to anyone else. That is the key,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
At the podium, officials involved in the fight against Zika each took turns to praise each other and their teams for work well done but questions lingered if this celebration may be premature. With Zika testing taking up to six weeks, in some cases, Jackson Memorial Hospital is reportedly still waiting on at least 500 specimens to be tested and results to come back.
“We have purchased additional equipment and personnel from the CDC and we have hired additional staff to be able to run more testing,” said Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip. “We expect the turnaround time will be much quicker than that.”
Monday morning Scott encouraged locals and visitors alike to return to Wynwood.
“Now that the Wynwood zone has been lifted, we must all work together to help this incredible Florida community fully recover. On September 30th, we will be hosting ‘Dine Out Wynwood’ to celebrate and show our support for local businesses in this area. I encourage everyone to travel to Wynwood and join me in visiting the many great local restaurants and businesses,” said Scott in a statement.
“We are not defined by Zika. We are defined by our unique community of creatives that have made something special. That is now fragile and more than every requires the love and support of its immediate community and those visit us from around the world,” said Albert Garcia, Vice Chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District.
Business owners there said they are truly relieved that Wynwood is Zika free.
“The streets were quiet. The businesses were hurting, so it’s really nice to have things back to normal,” said Noele Silverstein.
Some businesses said it’s seemed like an eternity since the travel advisory was issued.
“We’re ecstatic! Absolutely ecstatic that the ban has been lifted, that we’re no longer the Zika hot zone,” said Jonathan Wakefield with J.Wakefield Brewing in Wynwood.
Some business owners say they have suffered financially amid fears of what mosquitoes can do and a barrage of images of serial spraying in Wynwood and on Miami Beach.
“The initial announcement of Zika definitely hurt business. I think people were worried about it and scared to visit. Families are affected, pregnant women and newborn children, people were scared to come to Wynwood because of it,” said Shane Sumbu, the manager of a Wynwood store.
“That’s wonderful about it being lifted now that we are going to the high end of our season,” said John Segura, the manager of Mister Rock Café.
Some tourists and visitors say they are now more comfortable about coming to Wynwood.
Valerie Leal, a tourist from Venezuela, said “People need to know this. A lot of people didn’t want to come here because of this.”
“I’ve heard terrible things about the effects of Zika and it’s just great to know it’s a little safer to walk around the cool parts of Miami again,” said Kelly Hayward who visited Wynwood.
Despite good news in Wynwood, a Zika transmission zone continues in Miami Beach from 28th Street to the north, 8th Street to the south, intercoastal water to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
There are two new non-travel related cases Monday in Miami-Dade County. One case is associated with the Miami Beach investigation. The Florida Department of Health is investigating the other case to determine where exposure occurred in Miami-Dade.
On a national level, Congress has not approved a funding package to fight Zika. However, Governor Scott has authorized spending an additional $10 million for more mosquito control, more laboratory testing and Zika prevention kits from the CDC.