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The Miami Beach police union is appealing to lawmakers to provide workers compensation for police officers who contract the Zika virus after two officers reportedly were denied benefits for the mosquito-borne illness.
A report from the Miami New Times newspaper on Tuesday said two Miami Beach police officers were denied workers comp for hospital bills related to Zika.
In an interview with Business Insurance, Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Bobby Jenkins said that Miami Beach Police Sgt. Michelle Sayegh contracted the virus two months ago and is still suffering.
“She lost 20 pounds, her joints swell up, she had headaches,” he said.
Sgt. Sayegh works on Ocean Drive in the Miami Beach entertainment district — one of the areas deemed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be active transmission zones for the Zika virus in Florida, Mr. Jenkins said.
Because her home is in another Florida county that has not been deemed at risk for Zika transmission, Mr. Jenkins said it is likely Sgt. Sayegh contracted the virus while on duty.
Sgt. Sayegh, who is back at work, was granted workers comp benefits for her illness at first, but her benefits were revoked, said Mr. Jenkins, who did not elaborate on the claim's denial.
A second Miami Beach officer, who did not wish to be identified, also contracted the virus, Mr. Jenkins said. That officer’s workers comp claim was denied, he said.
“He’s outside all the time,” Mr. Jenkins said.
The Miami Beach police union sent a letter last week to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine asking for a plan to cover first responders infected with Zika.
"Despite efforts to mitigate the issue in Miami Beach, the number of Zika cases continues to rise, and as recently as last week, there was another pool of infected mosquitoes discovered in the city," Mr. Jenkins said in a copy of the letter provided to the Miami New Times. "We think it is inappropriate and irresponsible on the part of those who govern Miami Beach to ignore this issue while our first responders continue to be exposed to the virus and its effects without the guarantee of any healthcare recourses being extended to them, despite the fact that their risk of exposure is exponential in comparison to the rest of the population."
A Miami Beach city official reportedly said the two police officers must show which mosquito bit them to be successful in their workers comp claims.
According to a report Wednesday from the Miami New Times, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said in a letter that the officers must provide proof that they contracted the virus while on duty and “identify the specific infected mosquito” that caused their illnesses.
A spokesman for Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, whose office regulates insurance issues for the state, said it is up to Miami Beach’s workers comp insurer to investigate Zika claims from first responders.
“In the event a workers compensation claim is filed from a worker contracting the Zika virus, the carrier will most likely conduct an investigation of the claim to determine whether the injury or exposure was work-related,” the spokesman wrote in an email to BI.
Mark Lies, a Chicago-based partner with law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P., said Zika claims will be complicated by the burden of proving that a worker contracted the virus while he or she was on duty. Then, medical records would have to show that the virus caused permanent damage, he said.
“Were you working or were you barbecuing in your backyard? You will have to show it,” Mr. Lies said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to publish interim guidance on protecting workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus this spring.