In football-crazed South Florida, the games go on - despite concern over Zika

MIAMI - OCTOBER 14:  A  University of Miami Hurricanes cheerleader tries to pump up the crowd during a game against Florida International University Panthers at the Orange Bowl on October 14, 2006 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

MIAMI - OCTOBER 14: A University of Miami Hurricanes cheerleader tries to pump up the crowd during a game against Florida International University Panthers at the Orange Bowl on October 14, 2006 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)  (2006 Getty Images)

Football is king in South Florida, but the recent rash of Zika virus transmitted cases might be expected to dampen enthusiasm for sitting outdoors at dusk under bright, insect-attracting lights while people cheer on their favorite high school, college or pro team.

As fans head to the stadiums, some teams, like the NFL Miami Dolphins, are taking precautions at their Hard Rock Stadium home games.

The team’s corporate communications manager Theresa Manahan said the Dolphins’ organization want to make sure the team’s fans are protected.

“Several weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins engaged their pest control provider to proactively create a Zika treatment plan for the 265 acres at the stadium and surrounding parking lots. Even though there were no events being held at the stadium this summer due to ongoing stadium renovations, there were over 500 construction workers on site in addition to Dolphins employees,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The Dolphins took a proactive and aggressive approach to this public health issue even though there have been no reported cases of Zika in the Miami Gardens area. The Dolphins’ Zika treatment plan follows recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and uses EPA approved chemicals that are safe for humans, pets and aquatic life. The stadium recommends fans attending games follow recommendations made by the CDC.”

South Florida has several Pop Warner, pro, college and high school teams that compete on the weekend during the fall season including the nationally college ranked Miami Hurricanes, who play at the Hard Rock Stadium too, Florida International University Golden Panthers, who play in the Conference USA, attracting a large number of fans.

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Also, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ local high schools also compete on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Miami-Dade County Public School system has 392 schools with about 345,000 making it the fourth largest in the nation. There are nine schools in the Wynwood area and three in Miami Beach. However, there is only one- Miami Beach Senior High – that has an athletic program in the affected areas. The sunshine state is the first state where the Zika virus has struck. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has about 15,000 student athletes. The average attendance for a high school football game is about 1,500 spectators. Attendance between the Hurricanes and Dolphins vary, Manahan says the team anticipates homes to sell out.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Daisy Gonzalez said officials have led a Zika virus health campaign too. She adds that the school system has been working closely with the health department. As of right now, no athletic sporting event or any has been cancelled due to the Zika outbreak.

“We have been encouraging our students to wear protective clothing – long-sleeved shirts and pants – as well as apply mosquito repellent prior to coming to school,” she said. “We held several events before the start of the school year where we distributed free protective clothing and distributed mosquito repellent to students in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Health Department. We have not altered any of our athletic activities per guidelines from the Health Department.”

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Zika is spread by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The species is most active during the daytime, but could attack at night. Those infected won’t have symptoms or will have mild symptoms like fever, joint pain and rash among others. The most impacted are pregnant women as the virus can be passed from the mother to the fetus.

However, Lisa Edmunds, a fan of who attends Florida International University football games, said she is protecting herself when cheering on her team at the school’s West Miami-Dade County on campus stadium.

“I am taking precautions and covering up,” she said. “I have also been using insect repellant wipes and the old school Avon Skin So Soft that I have stockpiled. I am concerned about the kids being protected. I hope that parents, coaches, athletic organizations are taking precautions.”

Parent Grace Lopez, whose son plays for a local high school team, said she’s not buying into the hype.

“The Zika virus isn’t a huge concern for me,” she said. “I think it’s blown up more then what it really should be. We have just received advice for kids to take repellant as a precaution but we have not had a meeting regarding the virus.”

Rodolfo Roman is a Miami-based journalist covering MMA and professional wrestling. He is the host of the weekly sports podcast, The Roman Show.

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