TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will experience a "disaster" with the Zika virus if federal authorities don't immediately provide money to help battle the virus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday.
Scott, who had already visited Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Congress to act, sent a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama asking the federal government to do something. The Republican governor called it "profoundly disappointing" that Congress has not taken "immediate action."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest responded to the letter by saying that "we hope that Republicans in Congress will finally get the message" and approve the $1.9 billion that the president has been seeking. Congress is currently divided over how much money to spend to battle the virus, which can cause grave birth defects and be spread by certain mosquitoes.
Florida currently has 162 cases of Zika virus, including 38 pregnant women. All of the cases involve residents infected outside the country, but state officials are worried that the onset of hurricane season and wet weather will lead to the virus being transmitted to mosquitoes domestically.
"There is no doubt that we fall further and further behind fighting the spread of this virus with every day that passes and we are not fully prepared," Scott wrote in his letter. "... We need federal action now to keep our citizens safe and healthy through what would no doubt be a disaster if this virus becomes mosquito-borne in our state."
Scott wants money to help the state pay for insecticides, mosquito-spraying equipment and kits to help with Zika preparation efforts as well as money to help local governments hire additional people to increase spraying efforts.
Adding urgency to Scott's request: Health officials announced Wednesday that a tourist contracted dengue fever in Key West. The mosquitoes that carry dengue also transmit Zika and other viruses.
A statement from the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County says the person, who is not a state resident, is recovering. "All indications are that this infection was locally acquired in Key West," it says, adding that mosquito control officials have intensified their activities in the southernmost city in the continental U.S.
Dengue fever is rarely fatal but causes debilitating pain. The island chain had been free of dengue since an outbreak that infected dozens of people in Key West ended in October 2010. Since then, the state typically records a handful of cases each year, mostly in the Miami area.
Scott has not yet said if he will tap into state dollars to cover costs needed to battle the virus if the federal government remains at a stalemate over how to respond. He has the power to ask that legislative leaders approve emergency spending requests, but he has not done so.
"This is a national issue and they (Congress) need to make it a priority," said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz, although she noted that Florida has spent some of its own money on the problem.
Earnest noted Scott's letter while addressing reporters as the president flew to Indiana for events.
"It is clear that Republicans outside of Washington recognize that there is more that should be done to support local efforts to fight Zika. And we hope that Republicans in Congress will finally get the message," Earnest said.
Kay reported from Miami. Associated Press White House Reporter Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
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