After about two months in recess, Congress is back in Washington D.C., and people are hopeful there will be some agreement on what can be done to combat the Zika virus—which has already plagued more than 750 Floridians. That comes as the Senate failed to pass another Zika funding bill again this week and there may be even more issues surrounding the mosquito-borne disease on the table.
“I rise with about 100 mosquitoes straight from Florida: Aedes aegypti mosquitoes capable of carrying the Zika virus,” said Florida Congressman David Jolly.
Holding a jar of mosquitoes on the House floor Thursday, Jolly along with Florida Democrats and Republicans called on his colleagues to pass a clean bill to combat the Zika virus.
“People are scared,” Jolly continued. “During the seven weeks of August that we were gone, cases of Zika rose from 4,000 to by some estimates over 16,000 in the country, including a new non-travel related case in Pinellas County, Florida—my home, my community.”
Despite the Pinellas County case, most of the state’s close to 60 local Zika transmissions have been in Miami-Dade County—particularly in the areas of Wynwood and Miami Beach—two tourist magnets.
That’s why Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio recently filed a bill to allow small businesses to get a loan from the Small Business Administration impacted by the Zika virus.
“Please put yourself in the position of a family-owned business on South Beach or in Wynwood, and they are being hurt,” said Rubio. “Instead of having 50 people coming in a day, they have five or ten, and they need help. And if they had lost power or been hit by a hurricane or a tornado, this wouldn't be an issue. But they’ve been hit by a tornado of a different kind, one they didn’t cause, they couldn't predict and they couldn’t insure against, and that is Zika.”
He also filed a bill that gives the Department of Defense flexibility to move existing money around to provide protections for those deployed and impacted by Zika.
“This is not a theory,” Rubio added. “We have over 100 people now, including 81 in uniform, that have been impacted by it and 19 of their dependents, three of them that are pregnant.”
And, lastly. Rubio says both sides of the aisle need to set aside their differences and vote for a bill fully funding anti-Zika efforts. And, he says while he’s voted for every bill—Republican or Democrat or bipartisan in nature—he’s most in favor of the 1.1 billion dollar proposal the Senate voted on months ago.
And, Florida’s Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson feels the same way. He says it’s time to stop the political games because the Zika problem is getting worse—especially in Florida.
“The problem is the over 80 females in Florida that are pregnant that also have the Zika virus,” said Nelson. “You’ve seen the photos of these terribly deformed children. It’s such a tragedy not only for the families, but is a considerable expense.”
Nelson recently voted against a House measure that’s now failed three times. It’s been blocked by U-S Senate Democrats because the proposal has included controversial provisions, like defunding birth control services associated with Planned Parenthood and reversing a ban on flying the Confederate flag in military cemeteries.
Still, Governor Rick Scott says both chambers and the President need to find a way to work together on this. Scott was supposed to go to Washington D.C. when Congress came back in session to talk about Zika funding, but had to cancel due to Hurricane Hermine’s impact on Florida.
“You know, the President and Congress have to figure out how to come together and get this done,” said Scott. “Zika is an issue for this country. It’s an international issue. It’s not just a Florida issue. I don’t want any additional cases in Florida, and the federal government needs to step up and be a partner. They have not been a partner. I still have outstanding requests from the CDC, which I’ve had out for…it seems like weeks now.”
In the meantime, Florida lawmakers have sent a bipartisan letter on behalf of incoming state House leadership, asking the federal government to declare a public health emergency in Florida and allow the state to make use of certain technologies that could help prevent further in-state Zika transmissions. That includes allowing local communities to decide if they want to release genetically modified mosquitoes.
Meanwhile, other areas are looking into options like the aerial spraying of insecticides. The spraying of naled particularly sparked controversy in Miami Beach. That’s where about a hundred people protested a city commission workshop weighing whether the effects of spraying naled were worse than the Zika virus itself. But, protestor Maria de los Angeles says their concerns weren’t heard.
“So, we just had this public meeting with government officials, CDC [Centers for Disease Control] experts, and doctors, and strangely enough, there was no one who was an expert on naled here,” she said, in a video posted to twitter. “So, in conclusion, this was a very biased meeting and the locals are still very concerned, and there’s really nothing that we can do about it.”
And, after delaying it by a day, the spraying of naled still went ahead early Friday. Several cities in Broward County are expected to be sprayed as well on Monday.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.