Melanie Fernandez didn’t expect to be wearing long-sleeved shirts in the scorching heat of a South Florida summer.
But Fernandez, who’s 20 weeks’ pregnant, says she isn’t taking any chances now that more than a dozen cases of Zika have been found in her city.
“I’m OK walking around in long-sleeved shirts and jeans and dying in the heat if it means my child is going to be OK. … All I can do, up to now, is just be on the defensive everywhere I go,” she told CNN.
Days after the CDC warned people not to travel to a one-square-mile area in Miami where Zika was found, reactions from residents and businesses remain mixed.
For some, Wynwood, a Miami community known for its vibrant murals and hot restaurant scene, has gotten a new nickname: the “Zika zone.” A few businesses have temporarily closed their doors, while others remain open and say they’re not worried. And pregnant women in the area say they’re facing new anxieties.
The virus is is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause devastating birth defects in children born to women who were infected during pregnancy.
Fernandez says her daily routine has changed since officials warned last week that the virus had arrived in Miami. In her office, a giant can of bug spray sits on the desk next to family photos. She avoids parks, dashes from her car into buildings and steers clear of any areas without air conditioning.
“It’s kind of crazy. If I’m outside, I’m constantly just looking around, just for mosquitoes. It’s something that would have never crossed my mind,” she says.
This, Fernandez says, is life for residents in a city that’s become Zika’s ground zero in the United States.
‘Life goes on’
Jill Palma used to open the doors to let fresh air into the Wynwood salon she manages. Now they’re shut, and a cartoon is taped on the front window. “Mosquitoes,” it says, “will be swatted.”
Palma tries to keep the doors closed and make sure everyone is wearing repellent. But beyond that, it’s business as usual at Junior & Hatter Salon and Barbershop. People are still showing up for their appointments, she says, and business hasn’t been negatively impacted.
“No one is taking it too seriously. … Along with our neighboring businesses, we are getting through it,” she says. “Some other outdoor businesses have closed, but we are just remaining positive.”
People are concerned, but confident the situation is under control, Wynwood real estate developer David Polinsky says.
“We think it is going to be a very manageable situation for the district,” Polinsky says. “Life goes on in Wynwood.”
Balancing faith and fear
Carey Fullilove says she was thrilled to find out she was having a baby, and she’s had a great pregnancy.
“What’s going on now, it’s definitely changed things,” the Miami resident told CNN after getting tested for Zika at her doctor’s office this week. She’s still waiting to find out the results.
“It’s definitely scary,” she says. “I’m the most at risk, right now, of anybody.”
Fullilove, who lives about a mile south of Wynwood, says she stopped walking her dog at night, started covering up with long sleeves and tried to keep everything in perspective.
“There’s no guarantees. You have to be safe. You have to take precautions and just stay positive,” she says. “It’s not good to be a scared pregnant lady for your baby either.”
Dr. Lauren Abern, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Miami, says her office has been inundated with phone calls and emails from worried patients. They have good reasons to be concerned, she said, and she’s advising patients to wear mosquito repellent, to stay covered when they’re outside and to steer clear of the part of the city where officials have said there’s been Zika exposure.
“The concern is that right now it’s in the Zika zone, which is a pretty small area, but it could spread,” she said.
A shrine and a sign
Some Miami residents have taken a more light-hearted approach as concern over Zika grows.
A restaurant welcomed customers with a sign boasting cold beer, Italian wine and “pizzika” pizza.
A shrine in a bakery’s window aimed to ward off the virus with a sign saying, “Go Away Zika!”
Stuart Chase, president of HistoryMiami Museum, says he snapped a photo of the shrine and shared it on Instagram Thursday as part of efforts to research and document the situation.
As incense burned in the window, he says, customers streamed in and out of the bakery.
Helping the homeless
As TV camera crews followed him through Wynwood this week, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado reassured residents that the area is safe.
But authorities stressed they’re not taking the situation lightly.
Police canvased Wynwood, handing out brochures about the virus and its symptoms. They also passed out cans of bug spray to homeless people and others on the streets.
Officials are spraying the area with pesticide and are on the lookout for additional cases of the virus, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN Thursday.
“We haven’t had any new cases in a couple of days. We also haven’t found any mosquitoes that are carrying the virus. … So hopefully this is an isolated case, and then we can contain it,” he said. “And we’re doing the best we can to make sure that is the case.”