Updated 9/19/2016 at 9:45 AM EST.
Health advocates and officials at the local and national levels are ramping up efforts to push the US Congress to pass legislation
funding the fight against Zika virus.
On September 15, small business owners in the Wynwood district of Miami joined officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and executives from the US Travel Association (USTA), an advocacy and advisory organization for the hospitality industry, on a conference call hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to outline for the media the impact of the mosquito-borne virus on the tourism industry in south Florida.
According to the USTA, tourism brings some $89 billion to the Florida economy annually. Since early August, the CDC has advised pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant to avoid unnecessary travel to the Miami area due to concerns over local transmission of Zika virus.
“Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a very challenging outbreak,” Anne Schuchat, MD, CDC principal deputy director said on the call. “Authorities in Florida are working very hard to address local transmission, and the aggressive response has included the travel advisory, which is unusual” for the continental United States, she admitted.
President Obama recommended $1.9 billion in extra funding to fight the Zika virus earlier this year; however, Congress has yet to approve legislation providing for it. Roger Dow, president and CEO of the USTA, said that his organization has sent two letters to Congress urging legislators to approve funding. “Even though the virus effects a small area and a relatively small demographic, perceptions of the disease could cause lasting damage,” he said on the call. “It’s easy to see Americans and people all over the world watching the news on TV and deciding not to travel to Florida. This is not a partisan issue. We urge Congress to act so that the perception does not get out of hand.”
There’s some good news, at least in the short term: on the call, Dr. Schuchat noted that the CDC may revisit its travel guidance on south Florida as soon as early next week, if there are no new cases involving local transmission of the Zika virus in the region. For now, though, the CDC’s Emergency Response Team continues to assist Florida and Miami-Dade County health officials in efforts to control the Zika-carrying mosquito population and educate the public in preventative measures.