- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2016

Five people contracted Zika virus through mosquito bite in Miami Beach, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wrap the popular the tourist hub into its unprecedented travel warning for pregnant women.

The CDC said women who are expecting should avoid the 20-block stretch where two local residents and three travelers contracted the disease, which can lead to birth defects in infants born to infected mothers.

Agency officials had previously advised pregnant women to avoid a square-mile area of Miami just north of downtown, because Zika only appeared to be spreading there. It was the first time in recent memory that public health officials had told a segment of the population to avoid part of the continental U.S.

The CDC said the confirmed cases in Miami Beach gave it no choice but to expand its warning to an economically significant part of southern Florida.

“We’re in the midst of mosquito season and expect more Zika infections in the days and months to come,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “It’s difficult but important that pregnant women make every effort to avoid mosquito bites and avoid going to areas where Zika is spreading.”

Travelers from New York, Texas and Taiwan are among those who picked up the disease in Miami Beach. Three of the infection persons are men, while two are women.

All told, officials have identified 36 cases of insect-borne Zika on the U.S. mainland, though until Friday, confirmed transmission had been limited to the artsy neighborhood of Wynwood.

“This means we believe we have a new area where local transmission are occurring,” Mr. Scott, a Republican, said.

Mr. Scott asked the CDC for 5,000 new Zika test kits as it copes with the apparent spread of the virus.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, seized on the news out of Florida by calling on Congress to return from its summer recess and hammer out a new deal on funding to combat the threat. His troops blocked a $1.1-billion plan in July, saying the GOP-drafted compromise short-changed the effort and had too many string attached.

“The transmission of Zika in Miami Beach is the most alarming development yet in the rapidly growing threat of Zika in the United States,” he said. “The House and Senate must return to Washington to provide the funding public health officials need to protect the American people.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, also called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to bring Congress back from its summer recess and pass a bill that meets President Obama’s $1.9 million request for funding.

Many Republicans have blasted Senate Democrats for voting to block the GOP’s funding compromise before Capitol Hill’s seven-week break, though some in the Florida delegation now say the state cannot accept political posturing by either party at this point.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the Health and Human Services Department isn’t making the best use of money it already has, citing a planned campaign to advertise Obamacare’s exchanges amid reports that yet another major insurer is partially withdrawing from the web-based marketplace.

“I am interested in knowing what resources the Administration believes it has for such a campaign and why it believes that such funds would be better spent propping up the failed Obamacare exchanges than other important public health priorities — such as preventing the spread of Zika,” he wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Florida officials had been stressing their efforts to knock out Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Wynwood, but confirmed transmission in Miami Beach poses a new challenge for the governor, who’s been trying to balance the potential health risk with the potential economic impact to the local economy.

Mr. Scott rejected claims he is slow-walking reports of local transmission, after The New York Times and other outlets reported potential cases on Miami Beach on Thursday, citing anonymous sources.

The governor said his team has to investigate the cases before it confirms transmission publicly.

“We’re going to provide, timely, accurate information for public health,” he said. “I want everyone in the state to stay safe.”

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