Gov. Scott’s Hits and Misses on Handling Zika

Aug 21, 2016 by

Florida is ground zero for fighting Zika in the United States, with 470 cases—more than any other state. To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott is taking it seriously. He’s traveling the state to warn of the dangers and advise what precautions to take.

What is Zika and how concerned should we be?

The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection. Common symptoms include fever, itchy pink rash, bloodshot eyes, sensitivity to light, headaches and joint pains that can last 7-10 days. Four in five victims have no symptoms.

The virus circulates in blood and semen and can be found in saliva and urine. The yellow-fever mosquito—Aedes aegypti—is the main transmitter but the virus can also be spread sexually.

Pregnant women are most at risk, as an infection can cause severe birth defects.

We should take it seriously and take precautions but there’s no need for panic.

Gov. Scott has taken some very positive steps in addressing the Zika threat by spreading awareness and increasing testing and spraying. He has emphasized testing pregnant women who are most at risk and taking precautions such as removing all standing water that serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Gov. Scott has visited the affected areas, held roundtable discussions and put helpful information and updates on the Florida Department of Health website. He has requested Zika prevention kits and has committed $26 million in state funds in emergency spending after Congress recessed without providing Zika funding.

But the goodwill Scott was earning turned a little sour when he pivoted from his focus on Floridians to blaming the federal government for not providing money. That finger-pointing led to an examination of Gov. Scott’s actions.

According to a Politico report by Marc Caputo and Christine Sexton, Gov. Scott cut funding for mosquito control by 40 percent in 2011 and eliminated the mosquito lab, a state-funded entomology research facility in Panama City Beach. Then in 2012, Scott cut $1.1 million from a University of Florida research lab in Vero Beach. The funds were to be used for researching how to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses.

Gov. Scott had other missteps. He opposed accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion, then flipped positions by saying he would accept before doing a final partisan about-face opposing Medicaid expansion for nearly 800,000 of Florida’s working poor.

In his first state budget, Scott also cut funding for county health departments by over $14 million—resulting in a 20 percent reduction in health department personnel. The county health departments do a significant share of testing for Zika and other infectious diseases.

Despite his own record of underfunding vital areas, Scott repeatedly criticized both President Obama and Congress for their inaction.

Scott’s criticism is misplaced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are putting forth nearly $8 million.

President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight Zika back in February. When Congress failed to act, he used funds dedicated for Ebola to address the spread of the Zika virus.

Scott said the president and Congress have got to come together on funding this, but it’s not a disagreement between the executive and legislative branches. Scott should put the blame where it belongs—on the Republicans in the U.S. House.

The U.S. Senate proposed Zika funding of $1.1 billion while the House only allocated $600 million and insisted on inserting other nonrelated and controversial issues like Planned Parenthood and Confederate flags at Veterans’ cemeteries. House Democrats would have supported the bipartisan Senate bill, but House Republicans insisted on less funding and inserting the poison pill language.

And Scott needs to accept responsibility for his own actions—cutting mosquito control funding, eliminating the mosquito lab, slashing funding for mosquito-borne illness research, refusing Medicaid expansion and cutting funding for county health departments and health clinics. He claims none of that matters.

Right now Zika is primarily a South Florida problem but it travels. The latest update shows 470 cases of Zika virus in the state with 59 pregnant women infected. Most of them—440—are travel related, while 30 were infected locally.

With 100 million tourists visiting Florida annually, it’s easy to see how it could spread to other states. Texas just reported an infected individual who had traveled to Florida. That doesn’t take into account international travel to areas like South America, where conditions are favorable for the Aedes aegypti mosquito to flourish.

Congress will reconvene briefly after Labor Day. Will House Republicans put politics aside to do the right thing and pass a Zika funding bill?

Florida’s congressional delegation should insist on it and Gov. Scott should be a bipartisan partner and refrain from finger-pointing, blame shifting and rewriting history.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.

State of Florida website:

http://www.floridahealth.gov/newsroom/2016/08/081516-zika-update.html



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