Mosquito season starts in earnest this week in the 2,000 square miles of Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which has had the most Zika cases in the U.S. To stop the insects and the epidemic they threaten, Chalmers Vasquez has just 12 full-time inspectors.
Five months ago, President Barack Obama asked Congress to allocate $1.9 billion to fight the virus, but lawmakers haven’t acted. In that time, the inspectors whom Vasquez oversees as director of the mosquito-control district have hunted the pests at the homes of more than 300 people suspected of contracting the illness abroad, with 46 of those cases confirmed. Calls from frightened residents rose in the past week to 50 a day from six, and Vasquez has begun joining his inspectors in the field.
If Zika spreads locally, it’s going to start soon. Vasquez wouldn’t do anything fancy with federal money. He would just hire.
“What you need in this particular situation is people,” Vasquez said during what would become a contentious inspection of a lush front-yard garden. “What you need now is boots on the ground.”
The money held up in Congress could help countries where Zika has already become a pandemic, pay for research and fund the search for a vaccine. The inaction is also starving the nation’s mosquito control network, the front line of the fight. Vasquez’s small army in Miami-Dade shows how difficult the fight will be.