Maryland’s Zika refugees
A Miami Beach family escapes disease-carrying mosquitos by sheltering in our suburbs
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.
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.