In Wynwood, Some Tourists Unfazed by Zika Scare

The artsy area has received unwanted publicity as the CDC has warned pregnant women to avoid Wynwood, apparently a first for the continental U.S. Tours and other events have been canceled

At Wynwood Walls, a destination for art lovers in Miami, visitors wandering through in 90-degree temperatures Wednesday seemed mostly unconcerned about being in a Zika-stricken area.

Kristina Ruhnow, 31, and 33-year-old Christina Ritter, both of Essen, Germany, said they arrived in Miami on Tuesday, and had been repeatedly warned by friends back home to be careful. 

"And we think we're not pregnant, the worst thing that can happen is that we're going to feel a bit bad," Ruhnow said. "But we already met a nice policeman who gave us these information leaflets. So we're totally up to date." 

The women are on a three-week trip along the East Coast, from New York City to Key West. Ritter had found Wynwood while researching what they could do in Miami. 

Tourists from around the world, in fact, head to the Wynwood Walls, one of the world's largest permanent outdoor mural exhibits.

Conceived in 2009 by Tony Goldman, a developer who transformed Miami Beach, and Jeffrey Deitch, the walls' creation sparked the change-over of the gritty neighborhood into an arts destination. The museum was expanded the following year to include the Wynwood Doors, a former garbage dump that was turned into a park with canvases of metal roll-down gates.

The neighborhood remains a mix of single-story art studios, restaurants, coffee bars and trendy shops close up against automotive and plumbing supply companies.

The area has received unwanted publicity in recent days as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned pregnant women to avoid Wynwood, apparently a first for the continental United States.

The travel warning was prompted by a rise in the number of Zika cases to 15 from four and the persistence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus.

Health officials are not sure whether the mosquito is resistant to the insecticides being used or is breeding in small, hidden pools of standing water, but it is still being found in a one-square-mile section of Wynwood.

Now, Miami-Dade County will try a different approach to try to eradicate the mosquitoes: It began aerial spraying Thursday with an insecticide called Naled.

The spraying, which was recommended by the CDC and the Florida Department of Health, took place over 10 square miles, including the Zika-affected area. It was supposed to begin Wednesday but was postponed until Thursday morning because of weather, according to the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Another tourist in Wynwood, Marcy Schmidt, was there from Chicago with her husband, two daughters and one of their friends, and she had looked up Zika online to see what the symptoms were. 

"But it didn't seem like it was a big health risk," she said. "And we figured coming in the middle of the day the mosquitoes probably aren't out anyway. So we thought we'd risk it." 

Despite the recommendations to wear insect repellent, she was not. Neither were Chris Anderson, 24, and 25-year-old Kia Anderson, both of Norfolk, Virginia. They did not know about the Zika warning, said Kia Anderson, an accountant. 

Was she worried? "No," she said. 

"We came down here because we like art," said Chris Anderson, who works in information technology. 

Aurelie Kersaudy, a 27-year-old tour guide from New Zealand, had heard about Zika while she was in New York before coming to Florida, part of a three-week visit to the United States. She had traveled many places, and was unfazed. 

"My first time here," she said. "I'm really warm, I'm sweating, but cool atmosphere so far."

The Wynwood Yard, an outdoor restaurant that also offers classes, closed temporarily on Tuesday until it was able to get more information. A company called The Art Experience was expecting to resume free art tours of Wynwood — on hold because of rain and hot weather — at the end of August, but now will be waiting to hear further recommendations from the CDC. The founder, Susana Baker, said she hoped by then that the outbreak would be under control.

"Besides the heat or the rain, now we have to worry about mosquitoes," she said.

Interns ages 18 to 29 conduct the tours, and she said, "Sending someone to a potential disease zone, I don't know if my insurance company would even allow me to do that."

Grace Della's company, Miami Culinary Tours, called off four food tours planned for this week, one of which was for a bachelorette party. On a tour on Saturday, no one appeared concerned, and Wynwood was packed, but by Tuesday morning Della said she knew she needed to put everything on hold.

"We have canceled everything until we hear from the officials that the neighborhood is safe," she said.

Della drove around Wynwood twice to see for herself what was happening there and was pleased to see city workers passing out insect repellent and taking other steps to curb Zika's spread.

"I was a little bit surprised that it got so close to home," she said. "I could understand the Everglades or places where you have big large spaces of water."

But her neighborhood, Midtown Miami, is about 10 blocks from Wynwood. "It's too close," she said.  

Others expressed similar sentiments.

Vanessa Amor works in Wynwood, lives nearby and these days counts the seconds as she runs indoors from her car, swatting away mosquitoes that might be carrying the Zika virus.

The 38-year-old is trying to get pregnant, and she is worried enough about the local developments that she called her doctor to ask about testing.

"It's definitely a scare," Amor, the manager of Museo Vault, said Tuesday. "I knew it was just a matter of time because I'm a native to south Florida and I know how prevalent mosquitoes are here. You cannot avoid them."

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