As frustration over federal Zika funding grows, Florida to offer Zika testing for pregnant women

by | Aug 4, 2016

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has directed the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to offer free screening for the Zika virus to pregnant women through county health departments across the state, the Governor’s office announced in a press release on Wednesday.

DOH has also dedicated additional lab services to expedite processing of test results. Both state and local government agencies are also engaged in spraying and other mosquito control efforts.

“We will not become complacent and will continue to aggressively fight against the Zika virus,” said Scott. “For this reason, I have directed DOH to make Zika testing available to all pregnant women who would like to be tested at county health departments statewide at no cost. We know Zika is most harmful to pregnant women and their babies and we must work to protect them.”

The Governor also held a roundtable to discuss issues related to Zika while he was in Panama City on Wednesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is primarily spread by mosquitos. It can also be spread through sexual contact with an infected person, and pregnant women who contract the virus can have babies with severe birth defects, including microcephaly.

The CDC reported that a total of 4.750 cases of Zika have been diagnosed in the United States through July 27th. Florida has had 307 Zika cases, the second highest in the country, after New York’s 449 cases. The Wynwood neighborhood of Miami has been identified as an area where Zika is being spread by mosquitoes and should be avoided by pregnant women.

Meanwhile, all 27 members of Florida’s Congressional delegation signed a letter to CDC Director Thomas Frieden requesting additional funding for Florida to fight the Zika virus. The CDC has already distributed $8 million in Zika funding to Florida, but only $720,000 of the $16 million in emergency funding that the CDC has set aside for Zika is designated for Florida.

“This amounts to a paltry 4.5% of funding made available, despite the fact that almost half of all confirmed non-travel cases of the disease in the continental United States have now been linked to mosquito transmission in Florida,” argued the delegation in their letter.

They also expressed concern about “the potential for explosive spread of the virus via mosquito transmission through heavily-populated regions of the state”:

If funds are truly allocated based on the risk of Zika virus transmission and population need, the State of Florida must receive a far greater share of available funds given the concerning developments linking new cases of the virus to local mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County. Augmented CDC funding provided to FDOH and county health and emergency preparedness departments is critical to effectively dealing with this emerging public health crisis.

A deadlocked Congress failed to approve Zika funding before recessing, and Scott, along with multiple members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, have been highly critical of President Barack Obama for what they say is a unacceptably slow response to the Zika crisis.

In a press conference in Doral on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio expressed his frustration that Congress had not provided Zika funding, blaming both political parties.

“My message today is at this point the time for this political gamesmanship has to end,” said Rubio. “It’s over. We need to fund this as quickly as possible. And I hope that both parties will put this aside.”

Rubio then turned his criticism to the Obama administration, speculating that politics was the motivation behind their foot-dragging:

It is inexcusable that the President of the United States and this Administration is sitting on over $300 million that were repurposed from Ebola to Zika that remain unspent. By their own admission, at least $175 million of federal funds are immediately available to be spent, and I do not understand why that money isn’t being spent right now. Now, I don’t like to ascribe motives, but in this case I have to start wondering whether they are holding back on spending that federal money because they like making this a political issue that they can attack Republicans on. My point is, at this point it doesn’t matter. Spend the money you already have access to, don’t sit on that money. I also find it unbelievable that last week they dished out about $40 million but in Florida, the state directly impacted by this with 14 mosquito-borne infections, got $700,000.

Florida’s 24 hour Zika Virus Information Hotline is 1-855-622-6735. Floridians who would like to be tested for Zika can contact their county health department.

Photo credit: Oregon State University via Flickr.

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