GWEN IFILL: In Florida, workers went door to door today to check for mosquitoes, and to spray in neighborhoods, in the hope of clamping down on the Zika virus.
Officials say 15 people have become infected in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, and it’s believed these are the first mosquito-transmitted cases in the mainland U.S.
The CDC says the mosquitoes are proving harder to eradicate than expected.
For an on-the-ground look, I’m joined by Alina Hudak, the deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County.
Thank you for joining us.
We know now of 15 locally transmitted case of Zika infections. How many more are likely, and are you prepared to handle an increase?
ALINA HUDAK, Deputy Mayor, Miami-Dade County: Gwen, thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight to you and to your viewers.
I would like to clarify first and foremost that the confirmed cases in Miami-Dade County are 12. I want to reiterate and really just be very clear about our mosquito control program here in Miami-Dade County. We have a very strong and aggressive program that we have had in place since 1935. We have many years of a proven track record in managing and controlling disease.
We work together with our Department of Health, with the Department of Agriculture. We have had consultations with the CDC, and they are working very closely with us. So we feel very confident that this can be contained and it can be contained to a very small area.
I want the viewers to understand that we’re talking about one square mile in a community that is over 2,000 square miles, and I think that’s important for context and for people to understand exactly the area that we’re talking about.
GWEN IFILL: Why is it confined so far to this one area, Wynwood, which contains an art district and attracts people from outside of the neighborhood? Why there?
ALINA HUDAK: You know, I certainly would be speculating relative to that.
We have a high international presence there and a lot of travel in that community. It is unknown exactly how it is that the transmission takes place, and obviously there is a lot of focus on the mosquito, but there are many unknowns about this disease. And, you know, quite frankly, we have been able to isolate at this point these particular cases, in consultation with the Department of Health.
Our crews have been there every single day, and have been on the ground since day one. The moment that a suspected case is identified, our crews are there. They do inspection. They do treatment. And we have, again, a very aggressive program.
In addition to that, we have a very aggressive outreach program to our residents, and we’re communicating with our residents regularly about the part and the role that they play in being our partner with this. We want our…
GWEN IFILL: And pardon me. What are you asking them to do?
ALINA HUDAK: We’re asking our residents to look in their backyards, to drain any standing water. We’re asking our residents and our visitors to wear repellent.
I heard someone today in a meeting describe it as you leave your house in the morning in Miami and you put on sunscreen. Put on insect repellent and help us and be preventive and do your part in preventing the spread of this disease.
GWEN IFILL: For months now, there has been a discussion about this, that it was going to spread, that it was going to come to the U.S., that there were going to be transmissions that began and ended here. Why could this not have been avoided?
ALINA HUDAK: Well, you know, I would say to that we have disease in the world for millions of years, and that we have mosquitoes in the world for millions of years.
We — again, since February, when our governor declared a public health concern, an emergency, our program, you know, continues to do all of the things that we do on a regular basis, not only in responding to service requests from our community, but in working with the Department of Health and making sure that at any point that there was a suspicion of a case, that we were out in that particular area, in that region, that we do inspections and that we do treatment.
So, there has been and there continues to be a very aggressive mosquito control program…
ALINA HUDAK: … the mosquito.
GWEN IFILL: Pardon me again.
How do you encourage caution? Like you said, put on sunscreen and put on the repellent. How do you encourage that without inducing panic?
ALINA HUDAK: Well, we have several methods by which we do that.
Our mayor has blessed and authorized us to spend whatever we need to spend to be able to do the appropriate outreach. And he personally has been — he has hosted media briefings. We have hosted a variety of media opportunities to get the message out to the community. We have information on our Web site.
We have information on all of our municipalities’ Web sites. We have our code enforcement personnel in the community. We have done direct mailing to our community. We work very closely with our local media to be sure that that message is being given to the public, and we provide information to any civic organization, any organization that wants the information.
And we’re making sure that that message — and to everyone who is listening today, please put on your insect repellent if you’re living in Florida. I can tell you that I personally was in the — I was in the Wynwood area this afternoon. It is a beautiful community. And it is a place that I love to go to with my family. And I go often.
And I am planning to go. I have family visiting from Pennsylvania next week. And I intend to take them there for lunch or dinner.
GWEN IFILL: OK. Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak of Miami-Dade County, thank you very much.
ALINA HUDAK: Thank you.