Rodents and Pandemic: An Unintended Consequence

Seven Tips to Turn the Tables On Rodents As They Fight for Survival in Search of Food In Commercial Properties

The COVID-19 worldwide pandemic has made the normal feel anything but normal in virtually every aspect of our lives.

There is another segment of the population in major U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, that has also had its world turned upside down – rats.

With the closing of tens of thousands of restaurants, schools and non-essential businesses, the garbage and food waste that was deposited in great abundance in alleyway dumpsters, garbage cans or left in trash bags is gone, and the rats are left with nothing.

Noted urban rodentologist Dr. Bobby Corrigan, a frequent speaker at Sprague Pest Solution client education events, says rats are getting desperate and their survival instincts are starting to kick in.

“Rats are doing whatever they need to do in order to survive,’ said Corrigan in an interview with Washingtonian magazine.

Corrigan says rats will first go into “panic mode” and start running around in the streets to look for food in their usual areas.

“Once the rodents realize their go-to buffets are closed, they’ll begin to turn on each other and go full cannibal,” added Corrigan who says he has already seen evidence of rodent cannibalism in New York City.

This aggressive foraging puts commercial establishments, whether they are open or closed for business, at a greater risk of rodents attempting to gain access in search of food.

In Sprague’s seven state service area unusual rodent activity is being spotted, according to Jeff Weier, BCE, technical director for Sprague.

“We are seeing vastly different rodent behavior patterns in a variety of facilities we service,” says Weier. “They are in a fight for survival.”

In one closed entertainment facility, rodent activity was noticed in the middle of the day which was unusual since historical data trends pegged very early morning activity at the facility as the norm.

At a temporarily closed manufacturing facility, maintenance staff reported a noticeable uptick in rodent activity on the exterior of the building as rats aggressively sought a way inside to identify new food sources.

“Rodents are intertwined with humans and react to changes in human behavior and disruptions to their environment,” says Weier. “They do not store food up; they live on the edge day to day. The reality is they are commensal and eat from the same tables we do, and when those tables are empty, they have nothing.”

With rat populations more vulnerable right now, Weier recommends that commercial facilities look at expanding their rodent management programs and take advantage of a unique opportunity to reduce populations.

“The current situation presents an opportunity to add more resources to current rodent management programs and clean out existing infestations,” says Weier. “With fewer competing food sources rodents may be more willing to approach bait and trapping devices.”

The threat presented by rodents to commercial facilities are significant. Rodent droppings and urine can trigger allergies and asthma; contaminate food, food preparation surfaces and equipment; and spread harmful bacteria including E. coli and salmonella. Rodents can also chew through wood, drywall and electrical wiring increasing the risk for fires.

What can commercial property managers and maintenance staffs, even those whose operations are temporarily closed, do to safeguard their facilities from increased rodent pressure?

Weier and the rodent management experts at Sprague recommend the following:

  1. Stay on Top of Sanitation and Cleaning Protocols. Don’t assume because your facility is closed or activity is greatly reduced, that rodents (and other pests) are going to be working from home – they aren’t.
  2. Inspect Thoroughly. All rodent entry pathways entering or connecting to structures at ground level, below ground and above ground should be carefully inspected and sealed to prevent entry.
  3. Exclude, Exclude, Exclude. Use quality exclusion materials installed by a trained professional or experienced maintenance staff to deny rodents and pests access.
  4. Check the Roof. Most rodent exclusion programs forget to cover a structure’s roof – one of the most common entry points for a growing nemesis on the West Coast – roof rats. Roofs contain multiple vents, screens and utility openings that roof rats will exploit to gain entry.
  5. Close Doors. Make sure overhead and entry doors are rodent proofed with appropriate materials to deny rodents access.
  6. Landscape Smartly, Maintain Regularly. Keep the landscape around your facility to a minimum and well-maintained. Overgrown shrubs and grass provide the perfect cover for rodents looking for a way in.
  7. Respect the Opponent. Don’t underestimate a rodent’s ability (or resourcefulness) to gain access to your facility. Rats only need a space the size of a quarter to gain access (mice need a space the size of a dime) to make their way inside.

Weier strongly recommends that closed facilities grant regular access for pest management service specialists to conduct inspections and perform essential services if needed.

“If rodents or pests gain access to a facility and are left unattended it could lead to some serious issues and be quite costly to remediate the problem when the facility goes to reopen,” adds Weier.

Read our information on Sprague’s rodent management capabilities.


Rodents: Rats & Mice