For months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state agencies have reported almost daily on the public health crisis posed by the spread of Zika.
From the first three travel-related cases identified in January, to the emergence of local Zika infections in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, followed by the discovery of mosquitoes infected with the virus in Miami Beach in September, the governor and state officials have vowed to keep Floridians informed so they can prepare.
“We're going to put out accurate and timely information,” Scott told a group of reporters following a Zika roundtable with civic leaders in Miami Beach in August. “We want everybody to be prepared. We all have to take this seriously.”
But the information issued by the governor and state agencies has not been timely or accurate — cases announced as “new” are often several weeks old, due to a time lag in diagnosis — and excludes details that public health experts say would allow people to make informed decisions and provide a complete picture of Zika’s foothold in Florida.
“I don’t think the message has been strong enough, in terms of ‘We have a problem’,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics for New York University Langone Medical Center. “It makes no sense — unless you see it through the eyes of the impact on tourism. I think that’s money driving reporting rather than public health.”
Over the past month, as local Zika infections have spread beyond Miami-Dade, with cases cropping up in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, Florida officials have:
▪ Stopped providing detailed information on epidemiological investigations into local Zika infections;
▪ Refused to identify all the locations where Zika-positive mosquitoes were trapped in Miami Beach;
▪ And under-reported the number of local Zika infections in Florida by excluding anyone who is not a state resident.