With the summer travel season winding down and the winter high point on the horizon for Florida’s tourism industry, the Sunshine State’s image as a favored destination has been overshadowed by the specter of Zika, according to a national poll released Thursday.
The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for August, conducted Aug. 18-24 among 1,211 American adults, found that 48 percent said they would be “not too” or “not at all” comfortable traveling to places in the United States, like parts of Florida, where people have been infected with Zika by mosquitoes. Three of four surveyed, or 77 percent, said these places are generally unsafe for pregnant women.
According to the poll, the Zika virus outbreak continues to be the health policy story most followed by Americans, with interest taking off after health officials confirmed the nation’s first cases of people being infected by mosquitoes in a section of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
A second Zika zone in Miami-Dade was confirmed on Aug. 19 in a 1.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach, with links to at least five infections.
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Most people surveyed, or 76 percent, said they were aware that Zika was now spreading locally in the United States. A smaller share, about 58 percent, reported being aware of travel warnings issued for areas in Miami-Dade.
The Kaiser poll, which has been tracking public opinion on Zika since February, also found that almost all Americans have heard or read about the Zika virus, about 92 percent of those surveyed. One third said Congress should make it a top priority to pass new funding to deal with the outbreak.
The August tracking poll examines the public’s knowledge of recent developments, their attitudes about travel to — and safety of — areas affected by Zika, and their views on Congressional funding to deal with the outbreak. It has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points for the full survey, with a higher error margin possible for results based on subgroups.
Six in 10 said they would not be comfortable traveling to U.S. territories. such as Puerto Rico, where people have become infected (59 percent), or to places outside the U.S. where people have become infected (61 percent).
A small share reported being concerned about the safety of these places for themselves, with half saying that areas in the U.S. where people have been infected with Zika by mosquitoes are generally safe for them, and 39 percent saying they are generally unsafe.
The poll also found that people were more likely to say they’re not comfortable traveling to places affected by Zika if they were aware of travel warnings for those areas.
Women also were more apprehensive than men about traveling to Zika-affected areas, with 53 percent of women, compared to 43 percent of men, reporting they were not comfortable traveling to places where mosquitoes are spreading the virus.
When it came to public opinion on Congress’s failure to pass additional funding for Zika since President Barack Obama’s February request for almost $1.9 billion to deal with the virus, one in three people surveyed said that new funding should be a top priority, with an additional 40 percent saying it should be an important but not a top priority.
Nine percent think passing new funding is not too important, and 5 percent say that new funding should not be passed at all.