What it’s like in the Miami neighborhood that has suddenly become ground zero for Zika in America

Wynwood Yard is at the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in Miami
Wynwood Yard is at the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in Miami
Image: Joe Skipper/Reuters
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Grant Stern’s life has changed since Zika struck Wynwood, a neighborhood just north of downtown Miami, Florida. The 39-year-old mortgage broker used to wake up every day, rouse his two dachshunds, and grab breakfast somewhere in the neighborhood. He usually spends lots of time outside; he ditched his car a few years ago and prefers to walk just about everywhere. In the last week, though, Stern has barely left the house.

“We put our dogs on wee-wee pads and we’re holed up in the apartment all the time,” Stern says. Normally, “when you go outside, there are always people walking around. It’s a walking neighborhood. That’s why people live here. If people like me are staying off the streets now, there’s gotta be others.”

Stern lives on NE 22nd St., a block east of US1 and just feet from one of the lines making up the red box that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew over the small Wynwood neighborhood. His neighborhood is technically Edgewater, but Stern has been living around the Wynwood area for more than 15 years. He and his new wife, Christine, got married in April. They were hoping to start a family soon, but aren’t sure what will happen now with the Zika zone a block away from his house.

Construction is constant. Stern can look out his window and count seven large high-rises in just one block. More than a quarter of residents are millennials and hipsters are moving in as fast as the condos can get built. Who could blame them? Wynwood is artistic. It’s walkable. It’s a mile away from the Atlantic Ocean. The appeal is contagious — Hillary Clinton’s campaign moved in last month.

Kerry McLaney works down the street from Stern. She owns the contemporary art gallery and event space Gallery 2612 on NW 2nd Ave. Wynwood Walls, a locally-famous graffiti spot, is right next door, and Miami favorite Panther Coffee is a couple doors down. McLaney says news trucks have been parked outside her gallery for days. She is in the center of the red box.

McLaney has been here for 17 years. “I live and breathe Wynwood,” she says. Aside from her gallery, she runs 305 Creative and Miami’s Independent Thinkers. She lives a couple blocks from her gallery, where an inspector showed up on Tuesday. “He had a Miami-Dade County Mosquito Inspection badge, a clipboard, and said he was going to survey the properties,” McLaney says. “He was there about 90 seconds to spray, then went house to house.”

On Monday, the CDC released an advisory telling travelers to avoid Wynwood and those that have recently visited should get tested for Zika immediately. This is the first time the CDC has issued a travel warning within the states.

Because of the Zika outbreak, Gallery 2612 had to postpone workshops until the end of the month since pregnant women are being advised not to travel to Wynwood. “It’s not fair that some can’t come to the area,” says McLaney. She’s even more concerned about the tourists who are in town, not expecting to be in the middle of a virus zone. “I saw a few tourists come out of their car and they had bug spray in their hands. I’ve never seen it like that before.”

The art gallery isn’t the only place in town making changes. Wynwood Yard, an outdoors music, food and hangout spot, announced on Tuesday they will be temporary closed as the Zika investigation continues.

CDC Spokesman Benjamin Haynes confirmed that the agency’s Emergency Response Teams were heading to Florida this week to assist in the outbreak, but deferred to the Florida Department of Health.

According to the latest update from the Florida Department of Health, there are 15 non-travel related Zika infections, which means they came from local mosquitoes or sexual transmission from those that are infected. Despite hundreds of cases in Miami-Dade County and neighboring Broward, the state health department says Wynwood is still the only area were “active Zika transmissions are occurring.”

Stern isn’t confident that the disease will be contained. “Miami is an international city, [Zika] was bound to move this way at some point,” he says. “There are people coming and going all the time in this town and they’re getting totally ignored. We have nothing to fight it.”