The night before the Zika virus descended on my Miami neighborhood of Edgewater, I did something very stupid.
As my girlfriend dropped me off at my apartment, we noticed two black kittens running in the street. I went upstairs, grabbed a bag of kibbles I've had for ages, and went back outside. We fed and played with the kittens for half an hour. Beside us was a heap of garbage left in an empty parking lot. There was also an abandoned lot overgrown with weeds just beyond a nearby fence.
The area was teeming with mosquitoes.
When my girlfriend got back home she Snapchatted me a video of nine huge bites that she got all over her body. I counted one on myself.
The following day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that there had been four locally contracted Zika cases discovered in my city—specifically in Edgewater and the arts mecca of Wynwood, which sits just to Edgewater's west. On Monday, Scott announced ten more confirmed cases and said he had called on the Centers for Disease Control to activate its Emergency Response Team.
So now I am living in the center of the Zika storm in the United States.
CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters on Monday that this was an "unprecedented" outbreak. "What we know about Zika is scary," he said.
He didn't have to tell me twice. The virus can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, even among women who don't show any symptoms. Beyond birth defects, the symptoms that do show are generally mild, like getting a fever, getting a rash, and joint pain. But what we don't know about Zika is unsettling too. We don't know the long term effects it might have on babies who don't show obvious symptoms. We don't know how to control the mosquitoes that carry the virus. We don't know precisely how long it stays in the body.
"We do expect that additional infections will be reported," Frieden said. "There are undoubtedly more infections because most people infected with Zika don't have symptoms."
My neighborhood is riddled with abandoned lots filled with poured concrete and flourishing brush—ideal places for mosquito-friendly puddles to accumulate. In recent years it has become a go-to nightlife spot in Miami, bringing a crowd of locals and international visitors every day to explore the rapidly-gentrifying streets. All of which makes the prospect of a further spread of Zika even more imminent.
It's an odd thing when your home becomes ground zero for a horrible virus: when teams of local, state and federal health workers can be seen crawling through your streets; when TV crews begin roaming around; when the outside seating at the usually bustling neighborhood coffeeshop is strangely void of life, and inside you overhear people talking about the virus that is apparently surrounding everyone.
Already the outbreak is having a very real impact on the way that people are living.
A local homeless man that I know called William the Rose Man makes his living folding roses out of palm fronds to sell to tourists and locals out on date nights. Until I gave him the rundown, he had no idea that the virus was around, but when I told him about it he showed me mosquito bite marks all over his legs and arms.
"I sleep with the skeeters," he told me, "but it's not that bad when the wind blows." I mentioned that health workers should be coming around, passing out mosquito spray and offering tests. He asked me to send them his way if I saw them.
An outdoor hangout that two of my friends helped launch announced that it is temporarily shutting down because of the Zika threat.
In the boxing gym that I go to, people nervously chatted about the fact that the space was open-air. As we were in the middle of boxing on Monday, it started raining. Punching the bag, I thought of the overgrown, abandoned lot with the big mango tree across the street: "This is just what we need right now."
The biggest issue, though, is the pregnant women who could be affected. The CDC says that anyone who's even visited the area since June 15 should get tested. I have three pregnant friends who have recently been to the neighborhood and now have to hope that everything will be OK.
Friends of both sexes are asking questions about what this means for family planning. If you get Zika, how long does that mean you have to wait to have children? The CDC says to wait a minimum of six months, if not longer, but even that is admittedly a guesstimate.
There is a local saying that goes, "When Latin America sneezes, Miami catches the cold." The fact that Zika was coming for us was a foregone conclusion. I rarely find reason to support Gov. Scott, but in June he allocated $26.2 million in emergency state funds to preemptively fight Zika after attempts to get money from the federal government fell apart (thanks to some politicians who added bullshit provisions about Planned Parenthood funding, Obamacare and the Confederate Flag to a Zika funding bill and wound up getting it killed). So now there will be no Zika funding bill until mosquito season is mostly over.
The CDC is set to have at least eight staff members on the ground by now. Scientists will be monitoring local mosquito populations to determine if they are somehow immune to the insecticides being used, a process which could take over three weeks.
"In Miami, aggressive mosquito control measures don't seem to be working as well as we would have liked," the CDC director Frieden added.
In the meantime, I don't have anywhere to go but my home in the red zone.
I love my neighborhood—all of it: The colorful artwork, the Caribbean fruit trees hanging in almost every front yard, the expensive coffee spots, the Puerto Rican shops that have survived the worst of the gentrification, the wild chickens clucking in the streets, and yes, even the abandoned lots where the stray cats make their homes. It's unnerving to live here while we're all being subjected to something like this.
August has just arrived. It's typically one of the wettest of the monsoon season—a perfect environment for mosquitoes to make mayhem. After that, we have to get through September, the wettest month of them all. It won't be till November that we'll feel even remotely in the clear.
All of us in Edgewater always knew it was going to be a long, wet and hot summer. What we didn't expect is that the stakes would be so high.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.