Governor: Florida remains 'safe state' amid Zika battle

Political leaders addressed virus in state Cabinet meeting


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida political leaders say controlling the spread of the Zika virus is doable but will take everyone's help, as travel advisories have been posted about visiting the state.

Gov. Rick Scott, at the start of a state Cabinet meeting Tuesday, said it's important to get the message out that Florida --- anticipating a record 110 million to 115 million visitors this year --- remains "a safe state."

"We're going to beat this," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "We're going to move forward, and Florida is very much going to remain the state that is known for its exceptional outdoor activities and opportunities, and this will be just one of the more interesting chapters written about Florida."

The state, as of Tuesday afternoon, had recorded 15 cases of people being infected by mosquito bites in Florida, with the virus believed to have been transmitted in a small area north of downtown Miami.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who's from Florida, is urging Senate leaders to pass an emergency Zika-funding bill. 

He said the leaders could pass the bill without reconvening the entire Senate, by employing a little-known procedure known as "pro forma sessions," which requires two senators to take to the Senate floor every three to four days to convene the Senate and moments later adjourn the Senate for another three to four days.

Nelson sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, urging him to use one of the nine upcoming pro forma sessions to pass the same $1.1 billion compromise bill that the Senate passed overwhelmingly back in May to fight the virus.

READ: Nelson's letter to McConnell

“The Senate has done this in the past, so there is precedent, and we need to do so again to protect the American people from this growing public-health crisis," Nelson said. “We cannot afford to wait another five weeks for Congress to return.”

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory that pregnant women should not travel to the area of Miami. Also, at the state's request, the federal agency said it was sending an "emergency response team," including experts on Zika, pregnancy and birth defects, to help in the response.

The mosquito-borne virus generally produces mild symptoms. However, it is particularly dangerous to pregnant women because it can lead to severe birth defects, including microcephaly, which leaves babies with abnormally small heads and developmental problems.

British officials also have advised pregnant women and couples looking to conceive to avoid non-essential trips to all of Florida and to some other parts of the U.S. because of the risk of contracting Zika.

As state and federal disease prevention officials work in South Florida, Scott and Putnam said residents can do little things to help keep the virus from spreading. That includes trying to reduce the population of mosquitos, which lay eggs in standing water.

"Everybody in the state has got to be active," Scott said. "You (have) got to get rid of standing water. You have to get rid of standing water. And you have to get rid of standing water. You won't have mosquitoes if they don't have any babies."

More than 1,600 cases of the virus have been reported across the continental U.S., nearly all contracted by people who traveled abroad or through sexual transmission.

A big concern for Florida is the frequency of travel between the state and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where more than 4,500 cases have been reported, nearly all contracted through mosquitoes.

Putnam said Florida is in better position to fight the virus than other areas impacted by Zika due to better infrastructure that includes air conditioned buildings, unblemished screens, sanitation requirements and local mosquito control agencies.

Cities at the Highest Risk for a Zika Epidemic | HealthGrove