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The Wynwood Yard Founder Talks Closing, Reopening And Positive Zika Tests

Della Heiman talks with The Wynwood Yard team members at a meeting ahead of the venue's reopening.
Trina Sargalski
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Della Heiman talks with The Wynwood Yard team members at a meeting ahead of the venue's reopening.
Credit Trina Sargalski / The Wynwood Yard
The Florida Channel
Della Heiman talks with The Wynwood Yard team members at a meeting ahead of the venue's reopening.

It’s been a little over a week since it was confirmed that the Zika virus has spread locally in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.

In the heart of that neighborhood is The Wynwood Yard—an all-outdoor food and culture venue. Within hours of the Zika announcement, Della Heiman—founder of the Wynwood Yard and owner of Della Test Kitchen—temporarily closed the space. She decided not to charge rent to the six other businesses at the Yard for the week they’ve been closed.

She says part of her decision was based on the concern that, in hindsight, several people who work at the Yard had experienced symptoms similar to Zika infection.

Since her decision to close, the health department has offered testing to 85 of the people who work at the Yard—at least 65 of them volunteered to get screened. The results aren’t all in yet, but Heiman says one of the employees has already told her the test came back positive.  UPDATE 8/11/16: Two employees now say they've tested positive, others are still waiting for results. The Wynwood Yard has released a FAQ about it.

The Wynwood Yard is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday. Heiman spoke with WLRN just before the results started to come in:

  • What are some of the things that, with hindsight, you were looking at and saying, “oh, maybe some of these employees had had Zika”?

We had a couple of employees who were complaining about things like rashes, fever, headaches, joint pain. But at that time there had been no reported cases of Zika in the continental US.

We had a couple of employees who were admitted to local hospitals. So then we really started to get concerned.

  • You actually called the department of health, what did they initially tell you?

My first conversation with them, they told me to follow mosquito control protocol. They told me to drain cover. They sent me a report that they had taken notes on our space a couple of days before. And they told us to make sure that we didn't have tarps or anything laying around that could collect water—which we had already taken care of once. They told me that they would have to do some further investigation before they could consider testing any members of my team.

  • What were some of the things that were weighing on your mind while you were trying to decide whether or not to close, and how to approach it?

It's funny because I kept thinking about a lot of my ethics classes in business school.

In our ethics class, we would talk a lot about three lenses to think about any kind of business dilemma: one of them was the economic lens; one of them was the legal lens; and one of them was that ethical or moral lens.

For me, the ethical lens always takes precedent.

And that was really stressful for me because I felt like I would be letting a lot of people down by closing. But ultimately, it just didn't feel like the right thing to do to operate business as normal when I had suspected cases.

  • What was the reaction that you got from the people who work there?

My team has been amazing. We’re part of a really tight-knit community. And people are just extremely dedicated, hardworking and they care a lot about one another. There was a unanimous response from my team of gratitude for looking out for their safety and their wellbeing. We did our best to put as many people as possible on paid leave.

  • Have you gotten any pushback from people who would rather that you stay open?

I think that in the beginning there definitely was some pushback and some questioning about why I had made that decision—especially when I wasn't getting any official recommendations from the DOH or the CDC to close. But once, behind closed doors, people understood that we did have some suspected cases and that we were trying to approach it as responsibly as we could, it was really just a lot of support.

  • How much is it costing you to stay closed?

In addition to the loss of revenue for this week, we've put a lot of people on paid leave. And then there's also just a lot of fixed costs associated with the venue.

  • Has anybody offered you any kind of emergency financial help with all of this?

My landlord sponsored a new mosquito prevention system, which was very much appreciated. But nobody from any public authority has come to me and offered me financial incentives to close or financial support.

  • Now you've got the health department offering tests to anybody who works there. How did that happen?

I tried to get in touch with the health department earlier in the day on Tuesday and the response just wasn't urgent. And I felt that the situation required urgency. We have multiple members of our team that are either pregnant or they have partners who are pregnant.

Basically throughout that afternoon I just started to escalate it up. I pushed pretty adamantly for testing our entire team. The testing was completely voluntary. But I thought that it would be important from an epidemiological perspective to understand what was happening with a population that had been standing in the middle of this suspected zone for the past two months, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

And if the answer turned out that nobody had it, then that would be great, too.

  • What happens if there are people who work at the Yard who come back with positive confirmation that they have, or have had, Zika?

We're just going to be completely honest with our community about that. And we're going to take every single precaution to make sure that there's no transmission at the Yard.

We’re putting a lot of measures in place. Some of those measures are: training amongst our team members; we’re putting in a MosquitoNix system that basically emits a mist every couple of hours that is deadly to mosquitoes and other insects; we’re offering bug spray to all of our guests.

Ultimately we're going to reopen in any case. But I need to be able to communicate an honest message with the public. And I can't do that until I have information.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Sammy Mack
Public radio. Public health. Public policy.