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Social distancing and pest control service

April 8, 2020
adult bed bug on human skin

Guidance for pest control professionals on essential services for multi-family housing during COVID-19

What is essential versus non-essential pest control service while complying with state social distancing and shelter-in-place orders during COVID-19? These guidelines relate to housing sites with in-house pest management staff and/or contracted services.

Pest prevention practices to continue during the COVID-19 outbreak

  • Garbage collection.
  • Call centers taking calls about pest complaints – ask questions to determine severity for prioritizing.
  • Control of rats in residences (any infestation level) or common areas.
  • Removal of a bat from residences or common areas.
  • Common-area pest inspection/treatments in high-rise hallways, maintenance areas, garbage rooms, and garbage chutes; findings of any pests in the hallways should be recorded for later nearby apartment follow-up.
  • In-apartment cockroach, bed bug, fly or mouse treatments for high-level infestations in residences, or lower-level infestations if:
    • A resident has a non-COVID-19 medical issue involved, such as asthma
      (as a result of pandemic response measures, we currently have people spending more time in their home, exposed for longer periods to possible asthmagens and respiratory irritants).
    • A resident complains about a pest infestation and consents to treatment.

Work with your pest control providers to determine what you will consider a high-level pest infestation. Consult with your local health department and university extension specialists about prioritizing additional pests of public health significance (filth flies, for example). Treatments conducted outdoors for wasps, fire ants, mosquitoes, termites, etc. could continue with proper precautions and should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Providing temporary relief for low-level infestations

To provide temporary relief while adhering to social-distancing guidelines to the greatest degree possible:

  • Can you give residents information and tools like sticky monitors/traps and delay scheduling a pest control service visit?
  • When practical, can you recommend that they vacuum? Or can you drop off a HEPA-rated vacuum that they can use to remove the pests themselves?

As a rule, use your discretion and seek the advice of public health officials.

How long could we suspend regular (in-home) service?

Aside from the above considerations about what should not be stopped, depending on COVID-19 risks, there may have to be a suspension of regular in-apartment activities for 1.5 to 2 months, essentially one to two pest generations, and depending on the progress of the epidemic in the area. 

Pest control staff or contractors can use extra time they have to continue implementing exclusion measures, checking for rodent traps and bait stations in common areas, maintenance areas, or exteriors when not dealing with COVID-19-related issues.

Note that any type of delay in pest management procedures will result in dealing with potentially more severe and extensive infestations. It is critical to resume routine pest management operations as soon as possible after the risk of COVID-19 transmission has passed. 

These recommendations are meant to help guide your decision-making process. Ultimately, decisions need to be made by the building or housing authority management with advice from your local public health department. Each management group will have to base their decisions on a variety of factors, including area COVID-19 cases, your population of vulnerable and at-risk residents, prioritizing disinfecting “common-touch” areas, and staffing levels. 

For more details recommendations, visit pest control in multi-family housing during COVID-19 pandemic.

This guidance was written by Stephen A. Kells, B.C.E., Ph.D. professor, Dept of Entomology, University of Minnesota and Susannah Reese, M.S. Extension specialist, StopPests in Housing, Cornell University

With contributions of the Urban IPM Initiatives members of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section, Entomological Society of America (ESA MUVE).

  • Sydney Crawley, Ph.D. Scotts Miracle-Gro
  • Zachary DeVries, Ph.D. urban entomologist, University of Kentucky
  • Dawn Gouge, Ph.D. public health entomologist, University of Arizona - MAC Experiment Station
  • Janet A. Hurley, A.C.E, MPA, Extension specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
  • Faith M. Oi, Ph.D. University of Florida, Entomology and Nematology Department 
  • Karen Vail, Ph.D. professor and urban Extension entomologist, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Changlu Wang, Ph.D. urban entomologist, Rutgers University

For more information or to find the IPM extension specialist in your area contact StopPests in Housing: stoppests@cornell.edu.

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