Florida’s Zika threat has ended for now, state and federal officials said Friday, an announcement that might ease visitors’ minds as South Florida’s tourist season kicks off.
“Our state has no more local transmission of Zika,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday at a news conference in Miami Beach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concurred, saying that South Beach in Miami Beach no longer is an area of active transmission of the Zika virus.
Because South Beach has seen no new cases of locally spread Zika for more than 45 days, the CDC now considers the neighborhood “a Zika cautionary area.”
The official announcements come on the eve of Florida’s busiest time for visitors. Florida tourism has been breaking records year after year, but Zika threatened to slow the industry’s momentum.
“That was perfect timing, just before the start of the winter tourism season,” said Antonio Villamil, an economist who runs Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables. “Once this declaration is made, that allows meeting planners to begin to book again for South Florida. Otherwise, we could have seen more cancellations.”
Miami in particular needs tourism to pick up the slack elsewhere in the economy. Recessions in Latin America have hampered Miami-Dade County’s trade-driven economy.
The Zika scare, while sobering, proved mild enough not to frighten away tourists, Villamil predicted.
“I don’t think it’s a permanent hurt on the brand,” he said. “Now that it’s over, I think we’ll do very well this winter.”
The Zika threat hasn’t disappeared entirely. Public health officials say doctors should continue to evaluate “all pregnant women in the United States” for signs of Zika, which can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, an urban pest whose numbers soar during the rainy months and fall during the dry season. Public health officials warn that Zika could return next summer.
“Florida’s rapid response and comprehensive mosquito control program has allowed them to interrupt Zika transmission, but we must stay vigilant and also take what we have learned and be prepared for next season,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said.
Scott sounded a similarly cautious tone.
“We have learned a lot this year about battling Zika and we must remain vigilant,” Scott said on Twitter. “Do not forget to dump standing water and wear bug spray.”
Palm Beach County mostly escaped the Zika scare. In August and September, state health officials announced four cases of Zika in Palm Beach County residents who had contracted the disease in Florida, but no part of the county was declared an area of active transmission.
For most people, the mosquito-borne Zika virus poses little threat. Only 20 percent of those infected show symptoms, and the ailments tend to be mild and fleeting. But Zika can infect unborn babies and cause severe brain damage.
After spreading quickly in Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika arrived in Florida earlier this year.
As of Thursday, 4,575 cases of Zika had been reported in the United States. That includes 185 locally transmitted mosquito-borne cases in Florida, plus 38 cases in Florida believed to be the result of sexual transmission.
As Zika transmissions accelerated over the summer, pregnant women donned long clothes and stayed indoors. However, the threat has abated in recent months as state and local officials stepped up efforts at mosquito control.
In September, Scott said Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood no longer was an area of active transmission. And in November, the World Health Organization said Zika was no longer a global medical emergency.