Miami's Wynwood, immigrant refuge turned hipster haven, becomes epicenter of Zika outbreak

Near a street corner in the west end of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, Carmen Negrete pours a bucket of grimy water into a storm drain. These days, the hot dog stand owner is taking extra precautions to keep her work area spic and span.

“I don’t want to attract any bugs,” Negrete said. “Given the recent warnings about Zika, one has to be extra careful, especially people handling food.”  

Negrete, who came to Miami from Mexico in 1990, has parked her stand on the same sidewalk for the past 10 years, watching Wynwood evolve from once working-class, immigrant heavy community to a trendy, artist powerhouse destination. As the neighborhood faces its first bout of negative press as the epicenter of the first outbreak of locally contracted Zika virus, Negrete told Fox News Latino that Wynwood and its inhabitants have quickly responded to address the crisis.

“If the city wasn’t cleaning the sidewalks, I would do it,” Negrete said. “It doesn’t cost me anything.”

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant, as well as their partners, not to travel to a small area north of downtown Miami that includes Wynwood. In the past week, Florida health officials have confirmed 14 cases of people infected with Zika virus after being bitten by local mosquitoes in that area, which is roughly 150 square meters. A 15th case was recently discovered in another part of Miami.

Despite the health scare, Wynwood has been experiencing its usual amount of foot traffic. On Tuesday afternoon, scores of tourists posed for photos in front of outdoor murals. Restaurants and cafes were busy, especially at local favorite Zak the Baker, where a line formed outside the door to get in.

Albert Garcia, vice-chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District whose family are longstanding property owners in the neighborhood, said his group is in close contact with local, state, and federal authorities to ensure residents, visitors and people who work in the area feel safe.

“Wynwood remains open for business,” he said. “We have over 300 businesses that call the neighborhood home. It really helps the local economy.”

Garcia’s family began buying properties in Wynwood back in the 1970s. In addition to being a major property owner, his company Mega Shoes, a wholesaler of women’s fashion shoes, has operated from a giant warehouse at 2090 North Miami Ave for more than 37 years.

“We have been very fortunate to be the arts, entertainment and cultural district of South Florida and for the role we played in Miami’s renaissance in last 10 years,” Garcia said of Wynwood. “Now we are the beachhead for the first known outbreak of locally transmitted zika. We are very conscious of the effects the news has. Not just for visitors, but for the people who live and work in Wynwood day in and day out. We are not taking this lightly.”

In other developments, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that a mosquito-control team will begin larvicide and adulticide aerial spraying every seven days for the next four weeks, as warranted by mosquito-population surveillance data.

“This spraying will begin, weather-permitting, tonight or tomorrow morning,” Gimenez said on Wednesday, “and will take place in a 10-square-mile area, with the area north of downtown Miami which includes the Wynwood neighborhood, at the center of the effort.

“Miami Police are the helping in distribution of DEET mosquito repellent free of charge,” Garcia said. “But we do not want to overly alarm people.”

Certainly, people on the street who spoke to Fox News Latino didn’t seem too worried about getting Zika.

At an outdoor table for the Mexican eatery Coyo Taco, 20-year-old Melinda Noves said she had not put on any bug spray despite knowing about the outbreak.

“I’m a little worried, but what can you do?” she said. “Mosquitos are everywhere in Miami.”

Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.

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