New York City is proving to have a serious rat problem—and we’re definitely not talking about this man who dresses up as a rat and runs rampant around the city.
As reported by the Associated Press on May 8, rat sightings have increased by more than 60% from the first four months of pre-pandemic 2019. Throughout April of this year 7,400 rat sightings were called in to NYC’s 311 service request line; about 1,250 more than this time last year.
In fact, each of the first four months of 2022 saw the highest number of rat sightings recorded since the first year online records were available in 2010—direct comparisons show an increase of 14,500 rat sightings in NYC in 2021 compared to 2010. And being sightings are more frequent during warmer months, we’re left to wonder if this summer will bring even more sightings of these pests.
It’s unclear whether or not the rat population actually surged or if the pandemic just made them more visible. “What happened during the pandemic was that restaurants shut down,” said Richard Reynolds, a member of an NYC rat-hunting group. “When outside dining came along, there was food again.”
Now, as some cities consider making outdoor dining permanent, it’s important to keep in mind the possibility of a swelling rat population. Leftover food left at outdoor tables surely attracts these rodents—we all remember the viral video that circulated around social media of the rat dragging a slice of pizza down the subway steps!
Found out today that the most purchased item in the @MuseumofCityNY gift store is a Pizza Rat ornament. I have no words. 😂 pic.twitter.com/cSacsYKTOU
— Smaran Dayal (@smaran) December 2, 2021
And now that most businesses have returned to their normal pre-pandemic routines so have rats as their behavior is directly tied to human behavior.
Steps are being taken to combat this issue, however. Former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio spent tens of millions of dollars on more frequent trash pickups, more aggressive housing inspections, and replacing dirt basement floors in some apartment buildings with concrete. The city also launched a program to use dry ice to suffocate rats in their burrows.
The city’s latest effort, announced by NYC Mayor Eric Adams during a recent news conference in Times Square, includes padlocked trash bins intended to reduce the big piles of garbage bags that these rodents love to feast on (you can learn more about these here).
This issue is certainly more than one of annoyance, too. Rats are also a public health concern, as most human infections are associated with rats. Last year, at least 13 people were hospitalized due to leptospirosis, a condition that attacks the kidneys and liver that is contracted through rats.
It’s been said that there are more rats than people in some NYC neighborhoods, but hopefully these new initiatives being taken to combat this issue result in a decrease of these unwanted guests.