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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

Pandemic Pest Problems (AKA: Pests weren't quarantined)

How’s your pandemic going? For quite a while many of us were stuck at home, our favorite restaurants were closed, and we couldn’t go to many of the regular places we used to. Many of our urban pests felt the same way.

Our lives were disrupted by the pandemic and the policies that were put in place to try to slow the spread. Pests were disrupted too. Food sources like restaurants, dumpsters, and hospitality sites dried up. Pests, especially rodents, were forced to forage elsewhere. They moved from their comfortable burrows and nests where food was close, to homes and less urban areas. There isn’t a lot of scientific studies (yet!), a study from Sydney Australia showed a sharp increase in rodent activity shortly after their initial lockdown. This indicated that rodents were out foraging more: their food sources had been reduced and they were out looking for more. In Tokyo Japan and New York City, many more sightings happened within the first month of those cities’ lockdowns. In particular around restaurants: rodents had a good meal, but were now forced to look elsewhere and were more active and visible.

It's not all bad news, New Orleans was able to reduce its rodent population. Due to restaurant closures, increased sanitation, and a Herculean effort by their city rodent control board, they successfully reduced populations.

While the pandemic had people abandoning many buildings like offices, schools, and hotels, they spent much more time at their homes. Instead of eating out, they were eating at home. More food waste and trash accumulated in residences. Flies, cockroaches, and even stored product pests increased in those areas. To complicate matters more, trash collection has been impacted. Trash services are having issues hiring enough staff so trash pick-ups have been missed or delayed. The more food waste and trash that sits, the more chance a pest will take advantage of it.

To put a slightly better spin on the pandemic pest issue: termites were not likely affected by our pandemic shifting. In fact, with more people at home, they were more likely to see early evidence of termites. They were there during the day when it was light outside, and they could call for quicker remediation.

Coming back out of lockdowns we encountered additional issues: our buildings that had sat empty for months now had squatters. Pests were taking advantage of warm, empty, and predator free sites. Schools and their dorms are dealing with rodents. Hotels that were unoccupied now found cockroaches and bed bugs. Museums that didn’t have staff or pest control found infested art items. Catching pest issues early is key to fixing them early. Now that pests had weeks to months to infest, clearing up those issues is challenging and expensive.

One bit of good news – we learned early on that Covid was NOT spread by mosquitoes. However, that doesn’t mean the next pandemic won’t be.

The pandemic showed that pests can and will move around as they need to. It’s not just the pandemic that can create these issues though. With climate change, we will see more severe weather and see it more often. Construction causes pests to be dislodged from their home ranges and seek safety elsewhere. Even small changes like missing a trash day, or a business closing next door can create new pest problems. Being prepared and responding quickly can be the difference between an introduction and a full-blown infestation.

Is your pest management plan ready for the next change? We can help with that!

Lagniappe - check out this cool idea from the South West Museum Development Programme.

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