Pandemic Adds Roach Infestations To Its List of Living Nightmares

Pandemic Adds Roach Infestations To Its List of Living Nightmares


Most people have a place where they keep their masks handy. A nightstand. A glove compartment in a car. For Luke Pyenson, it’s a plastic hook stuck on the wall by his front door. But last week, as he went to grab his mask to accept a delivery, he spotted a big cockroach snuggling right where his mouth and nose would have gone.

“I was going to say I gasped, but my girlfriend wanted it to be on record that I did scream,” said Pyenson who lives in Crown Heights.

Living in New York City means making peace with encountering the occasional cockroach, but over the last year or so, some residents say they’ve witnessed more roaches in their homes than ever before. Like 24-year-old Piper Fialkoff, who noticed an explosion of roaches in her parents’ Upper West Side apartment over the summer. She said it started with tiny cockroaches showing up in their bathroom, but then the situation escalated.

“The real kicker was one night we were watching TV, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something very large flying through the air,” Fialkoff said.

Even though some New Yorkers may have been unpleasantly surprised to discover new six-legged squatters, exterminators around the five boroughs say they had a feeling that they would be doing business with residents spending more time at home. Fida Abass, the owner of Best At Pest Exterminating in Kensington, Brooklyn, was expecting to get more calls as a result of people eating at home more, generating more trash than usual, as well as delaying pest treatments due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19.

“Even if some person has issues with roaches, mice, bedbugs, most of the people are not even willing to have people come into their house,” Abass said. He said exterminators are following COVID-19 protocols during visits—wearing masks and social distancing—but bedbug treatments can take a long time, which might dissuade some customers.

Anthony Devito, the general manager and entomologist for Magic Exterminating in Flushing, Queens, said he’s seen a (perhaps expected) shift in business away from commercial buildings and offices, while his teams now spend more time treating apartments and houses.

“If you’ve had an apartment house and say you have 200 people and generally we get about 10 percent of the clients or maybe 20 clients who sign up for service or have problems,” Devito said. “We probably have to spend, you know, an extra maybe 20 or 25 percent of time on an account simply because more people are signing up for service.”

Still, some experts think it’s less of a question of if there are more bugs around, and more that people are spotting the ones that were already there. Dr. Jessica Ware, an associate curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, believes it might be similar to early in the pandemic, when a lot of people stuck in their homes reported hearing more birdsong and seeing new animals out and about. Outdoor (and now indoor) wildlife haven’t come alive, so much as we’re just noticing it more.

“The pandemic has kind of allowed a lot of introspection and a lot of time to just kind of stare at the wall and notice ‘hey, there’s a cockroach there,’” said Ware.

Only instead of nature healing, people quarantining were just paying more attention to the ecosystems that were there all along—both outside with the birds, and inside with the bugs.

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, Ky Platt said he has been helping his girlfriend battle a recent roach infestation in their home in Prospect Lefferts Gardens—the first she has ever had to deal with pests since living there.

“In 12 years she’s never had to use the exterminator, if that kind of gives you a sense,” Platt said.



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