Mary­land’s Zika refugees

A Mi­ami Beach fam­ily es­capes dis­ease-car­ry­ing mos­qui­tos by shel­ter­ing in our sub­urbs

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Bran­don Levitt Bran­don Levitt is an at­tor­ney; his email is BRLe­vitt@gmail.com.

So I’m not a tra­di­tional refugee. But I have been forced to leave my city to es­cape a mos­quito. My wife and I have lived in the same neigh­bor­hood at the south­ern tip of Mi­ami Beach for nearly 10 years. It’s an area south of Fifth Street that lo­cals call “SoFi.” It’s sur­rounded by wa­ter on three sides and tourists on the fourth. It’s quiet, for Mi­ami Beach stan­dards. That is to say, there’s a mas­sive club three blocks from my apart­ment, but only lo­cal bars and restau­rants across the street. Ev­ery­thing I need is in walk­ing dis­tance, or Uber dis­tance or scooter dis­tance. Most lo­cals can’t imag­ine liv­ing any­where else. In fact, I tried to name my two-year-old daugh­ter SoFi. But I have a wife, and she had a veto.

On one Fri­day in late July, the CDC an­nounced that Zika mos­qui­toes were in­vad­ing Mi­ami. Two days later, my preg­nant wife and I de­cided we needed to move. Five days af­ter that, my wife, my daugh­ter, and I were liv­ing in the base­ment of my in-laws’ house in sub­ur­ban Mary­land, sev­eral miles from rec­og­niz­able so­ci­ety. There are deer in the back­yard. Noth­ing is in walk­ing dis­tance. I don’t have my scooter. How did we get here? It was early July. I had just found out my wife was preg­nant with our sec­ond. I was feel­ing con­fi­dent I could over­ride my wife’s SoFi veto. We knew about Zika mos­qui­toes and the brain dam­age the virus can in­flict on a fe­tus, but we also knew there was no ev­i­dence of those mos­qui­toes in Florida.

On July 19, we learned about one pos­si­ble case of “home­grown” Zika. Scary, but it was un­con­firmed. And if Zika re­ally made it to Florida, the mos­qui­toes would be in the Ever­glades, in my pro­fes­sional opin­ion.

Then on Fri­day, July 29, health of­fi­cials an­nounced four cases of lo­cally trans­mit­ted Zika virus. The next day, they an­nounced eight more. Worse, the Zika mos­qui­toes were in Wyn­wood, a restau­rant and arts district a few miles from Mi­ami Beach. And they had likely been there since mid-June. (They must have mi­grated from the Ever­glades.)

My wife and I had been to Wyn­wood count­less times since mid-June. We dined at the restau­rants, strolled through the farm­ers’ mar­ket, and took our daugh­ter there for her mu­sic classes. Did we get bit­ten by mos­qui­toes? Of course we did. A space­suit couldn’t pre­vent a mos­quito bite in Wyn­wood in June. Chaos en­sued. It was Sun­day, July 31. We had spent the last 48 hours trac­ing every step we took in Wyn­wood over the past six weeks. We read about Zika and the ef­fect the virus can have on a fe­tus, par­tic­u­larly early in preg­nancy. Half­way through one of those ar­ti­cles and we were pre­pared to buy one-way tick­ets to Mary­land to move in with my in-laws.

But we hadn’t even had our first OB ap­point­ment. It was the next day. For the first time in two days, ra­tio­nal­ity swept over us. We should at least wait un­til our first ul­tra­sound be­fore up­root­ing our lives.

It was Mon­day, Aug. 1. We stared at a tiny black and white speck on a larger black and white screen. We heard a heart­beat. That’s all it took. My wife and daugh­ter would fly up to Mary­land on Thurs­day. I would drive up the day af­ter.

But we still had a few days left. And a lot of unan­swered ques­tions. Can we work re­motely? How long will we be gone? What about our daugh­ter’s preschool? What do we do with our apart­ment? What if my wife was al­ready in­fected? We need to get tested. Are there doc­tors who spe­cial­ize in Zika?

We had two days to get an­swers. Those days are a blur. I re­call pack­ing, clean­ing, con­sol­ing, ra­tio­nal­iz­ing and fran­ti­cally get­ting an­swers to our ques­tions. And then we left. The dust has now set­tled. We’ll need con­tin­ued mon­i­tor­ing, but all signs in­di­cate my wife does not have Zika. She’s feel­ing good. The speck has grown to a bean. We got our an­swers. We’re ad­just­ing to sub­ur­ban refugee life. We learned Zika mos­qui­toes are now on Mi­ami Beach, and felt more con­fi­dent in our de­ci­sion to move. But we miss our fam­ily, our friends, the beach. I miss my scooter.

Sil­ver lin­ing: this kid’s name will be SoFi.

JOE RAE­DLE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Mi­ami-Dade County mos­quito con­trol in­spec­tor uses a Golden Ea­gle blower to spray pes­ti­cide to kill mos­qui­tos in Florida’s Mi­ami Beach neigh­bor­hood as the county fights to con­trol the Zika virus out­break there.

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