Wednesday, December 1, 2021

New York Rats: They’re in the park, in your neighborhood, and even at your table

NEW YORK. Brittany Brown and her friends were recently finishing an al fresco dinner in Chelsea when out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw something moving at the edge of their table.

After a few moments, she thought she saw it again.

Then she met a man sitting next to her gaze, and he confirmed that she was worried: there was a rat on the table. If that wasn’t enough, one of them slipped through the restaurant shed as she left.

“It’s disgusting and a little unnerving,” said Brown, an editor who has lived in Manhattan for four years. She didn’t want to name the restaurant and single it out as a bigger problem.

“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Rodents are one of the perennial features of New York City. But all over the city you can hear the same thing: they are spiraling out of control like never before.

As of Wednesday, there have been over 21,000 sightings of rats out of 311 this year, up from 15,000 in the same period in 2019 (and about 12,000 in 2014). The number of initial health checkups for “rat activity signs” has nearly doubled over the past fiscal year. There have also been 15 reported cases of leptospirosis this year – more since at least 2006 – of leptospirosis, which can cause severe liver and kidney damage and is commonly spread through rat urine in the city, according to health officials. One case was fatal.

So add rat plague to everything else New York faces as it tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. By some standards, the problem could have eased a little before the coronavirus arrived. But since then, the rodents have roared again due to coincidence.

The surge is mostly seen in areas long known to be infected, health officials say.

In one such neighborhood, Manhattan’s East Village, it was evident Friday night.

Jean O’Hearn, a lawyer, said she had never seen so many rats in her block on East Third Street between Avenue A and Avenue B in 28 years. As if on cue, one of them jumped out from under a white SUV about eight feet away and crossed the sidewalk.

“Oh, there they are!” exclaimed a neighbor, James Gilbert, as the rodent hobbled through a side door into the courtyard behind O’Hearn’s house. Seconds later, two more ran from the street to several garbage bags.

“They’re everywhere,” Gilbert said.

Another neighbor, Maria Cortez, intervened: “They are everywhere – and they are fat!” Cortez, a 45-year-old tenant of the building, said she rings the keys as she walks to the front door to get the rats out of her way.

According to experts, exterminators and city officials, the scenario of the ideal pandemic storm behind the wave is as follows:

When restaurants closed, rats had to dig more outside. They found that the drains and baskets at the corner were clogged with rubbish due to the Sanitation Department’s budget cuts last year. Illegal dumping has increased. Most people are stuck at home, and so is residential waste.

A few months after the city’s closure, construction that drives out rats and was halted, like everything else, returned enthusiastically. Outdoor dining expanded as restaurants struggled to survive.

Along the way, inspectors, who usually hunt for evidence of rats, have been assigned to other locations, including mass vaccination sites and restaurants, to make sure they are demanding proof of vaccination.

A wetter-than-normal summer, combined with other warming effects that helped the rats grow, made the problem worse, health officials said. By October, animals that breed in large numbers had reached their annual peak in the city, said Jason Munshi-South, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Fordham University.

Now that the temperature drops, the rats become less visible. But in the spring they will again appear in droves, ready to feast.

When they do, critics say the restaurant awnings that helped save the industry will become potential feeding grounds. Abandoned are already arenas for rodents.

In a lawsuit filed last month to prevent the continued expansion of outdoor dining, a group of city residents named a “rat appeal” among their objections.

One plaintiff, Marcell Rocha, who lives on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, said he often walks down the street to avoid rodents.

“I never remember having this much rubbish,” Rocha said of the area, a popular nightlife spot.

Edward Grayson, the sanitation commissioner, acknowledged that awnings, especially those that extend beyond the sidewalk, complicate the department’s work and create more responsibility for restaurants he expects them to do.

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“You’re not going to eat in a disgusting place,” Grayson said in an interview.

Last year’s budget cuts were largely recovered, he said, and the department “did everything it could to keep the streets clean.”

But Antonio Reinoso, Brooklyn city councilor who chairs the sanitation committee and is the new district president, said the effort was not enough.

“The city seems dirtier,” Reinoso said, expressing a widely shared opinion.

Anjali Krishnan said that in Bushwick, the district with the fourth highest rat sightings this year, “one of the most disgusting things” she saw was “a moving garbage bag that walked down the street and knew what was inside. rat”.

“The craziest one” was the one who stepped on a rat, Krishnan said in an interview at Maria Hernandez Park, where rodents could be seen scurrying around the bushes while people enjoyed games, music and food.

“I think I heard a rat and a man screaming,” Krishnan said of the episode.

Rashanna Lee said she was amazed at the courage of the rats.

“I just saw a rat when we walked to the park, and it was still light,” she said. “And I thought, damn it, that’s cocky.”

Andy Linares, president of the Bug Off Pest Control Center in Upper Manhattan, said the rats have undoubtedly “become more insolent in their search for food and shelter.” He described how he watched as one of them emerged from under a garbage can and “walked” across the street before slipping into the sewer grate.

“It was a transitional journey,” said Linares, who has run the business for 40 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last year that rats could exhibit “unusual or aggressive” behavior during a pandemic. But a health department spokesman said there was “no evidence” that they behaved differently than usual.

Daniel Barber disagreed.

Barber, the citywide leader of the New York City Housing Authority Tenants Association, recently led a reporter and photographer on an afternoon tour of the Andrew Jackson housing estate in the Bronx.

Around the same time the previous day, Barber said, a pregnant rat had run through the garden next to a group of men playing dominoes.

“She was huge,” he said.

There were no rats to be seen that day, but there was ample evidence of their presence: burrows and tree holes filled with stones to prevent nesting is a futile exercise, experts say.

New York City’s most recent rat-fighting initiative, a $ 32 million program in 2017, targets three of the most infected parts of the city, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio: the Grand Concourse neighborhood in the Bronx; Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn; and a portion of Manhattan that includes the East Village, Lower East Side and Chinatown.

Most of the money went to improve conditions in the public housing stock, and some evidence suggests the program has met its targets to reduce rat activity in these areas by 2019. Now that rodents have reappeared, the program’s future is unclear.

Pouring dry ice into burrows is one of the city’s ways to fight rats. Fighter Linares said poisons, bait crates, and other devices remain popular, with sales surging during the pandemic. (The City website reported last month that rat poison has killed at least six dead birds in local parks since January 2020.)

Mayor-elect Eric Adams previously touted what he described in an October radio interview as “an amazing device”: a poisonous cistern that drowns rats in deadly soup.

“We’re going to be installing these traps all over the city,” Adams said in an interview.

Linares said the device is not new. Munshi South said there was little that could do to solve the problem. Both agreed that urgent action was needed, especially with regards to restricting rodent feed.

In terms of sheds, Andrew Righi, chief executive of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said most restaurant owners were keen to keep their structures clean and prepared for the stringent sanitation measures that would be imposed if outdoor dining would continue to expand.

“This could be a catalyst for New York to change the way it handles its garbage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brown cannot shake off the memory of a rat joining her at the dinner table.

“It made me feel,” she said, “that maybe I’m done with dinner in the fresh air now.”

Nation World News Desk
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