Okay, we don’t actually have any fresh video of a rat dragging a slice of pizza in a New York City subway. At least not yet. But with the arrival of spring and the reopening of most city businesses, the number of reported rat sightings in Gotham is surging to levels not seen in more than a decade. And with the surge in the number of rat sightings being reported, there was also an increase in the number of people hospitalized with leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread by rats. Nobody knows the total rat population in New York City but the rodents almost certainly outnumber the people. Now the new mayor is stuck with the problem and this is one plague that he doesn’t seem to have any new answers for.
They crawled to the surface as the coronavirus pandemic roiled New York City, scurrying out of subterranean nests into the open air, feasting on a smorgasbord of scraps in streets, parks and mounds of curbside garbage. As diners shunned the indoors for outdoor dining, so did the city’s rats.
Now city data suggests that sightings are more frequent than they’ve been in a decade.
Through April, people have called in some 7,400 rat sightings to the city’s 311 service request line. That’s up from about 6,150 during the same period last year, and up by more than 60% from roughly the first four months of 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.
Pest control experts are pointing to a variety of factors that are contributing to the return of the hoards of rats. One part of it is a seasonal pattern involving the city’s homeless population. Many of them move into the subways in the winter to avoid the harsh weather. They bring food with them and generate a lot of food waste, attracting the rats. The number of homeless surged over the past two years, so more people leads to more food waste, leading to more rats. Now that spring has arrived, many of those people are returning to the surface and the rats are following them.
The pandemic also contributed to the problem because many more restaurants offered outdoor dining options to comply with social distancing mandates. The city is now making those outdoor dining permits permanent in many areas. People dining outdoors generate more food waste and, again, more rats are showing up.
The city maintains a public website where residents can get information on how to prevent rat infestations and report rats when they are seen. Most of the information there should be common sense for the majority of people, but that doesn’t really help with the problem of rats on the subways and the public streets.
In 2019 the city announced a plan to get rid of the rats using pheromones. It has apparently not worked.