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Pests don’t care about COVID-19

|  March 26, 2020

Editor’s Note: Joe Barile, BCE, Technical Service Lead; Pest Management & Public Health Bayer Environmental Science, shares some “observations from an entomologist in the hot zone.” 

I am a certified news junkie. But I’m also a scientist. While I struggle with some of the misconceptions that are being propagated during this sensitive time, I do agree that the term ‘unprecedented’ is accurate when it comes to the Coronavirus outbreak. Even my parents, who have lived through the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor Day, World War II, and the Bay of Pigs event have told me they have never seen anything like this.

It’s easy to get wound up in the panic of quarantines, toilet paper(!), and N95 masks. But this situation does impact me personally, as it does everyone on some level. I am a member of the ‘vulnerable’ demographic. I am over 60 and have a chronic respiratory condition. As I write this my daughter is escaping from New York City before the shelter-in-place order drops since her school system has closed to at least the end of April. When I visited the grocery store yesterday there was no fresh meat among many other stock-outs. Unprecedented indeed.

I’m lucky that I have been a remote employee since 1987, so when I am not traveling, working from home is second nature. And I have been communicating with pest management friends and customers about what is going on and — most importantly — how we continue to provide service under these unprecedented social conditions.

Already the impacts of our social isolation are being felt in the pest management Industry. I have heard about outright cancellations, lock-outs and requests for postponements. Across our markets, both residential and commercial accounts will be presenting challenges as we work to maintain service and provide the protection our customers and the public at large still desperately need.

So, if you’ll allow me, I would like to share my thoughts on the road ahead. First, kudos to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) (and the Canadian Pest Management Association) for creating a statement regarding pest management being an “essential service.” You can download a template of this statement from the website and customize it for your company. I have already received examples from pest management businesses that started this before NPMA (a special shout-out to Joseph Sheehan in New York). Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture produced a statement regarding the health of the food supply system in the country and named various agricultural businesses and their “essential” supporting network businesses, and there we were — pest management — right in the list.

Pest management is an essential service
So understand that regardless of the social disruption, pest management is an essential service. There is no arguing against the science. Cockroaches, rats, ants, bed bugs and mice do not care about our efforts to respond to the pandemic. They will continue to seek entry, exploit resources, damage structures and goods, contaminate their environments and most important, reproduce.

Objections and push-back
We will be confronted with objections and push-back as we try to perform services. Many customers have significant reasons for attempting to opt-out. The restaurant restrictions that have been put in place here in Massachusetts and other locations may put some accounts out of business. I had a phone meeting with a pest management professional (PMP) and friend that I have known for over 30 years, and he confirmed he is already getting calls from his restaurant clients. But he is sharing some very sound advice: He tells his customers to think ahead to when this all ends and consider what condition his/her business will be in without his pest service. He is also telling them that when normalcy returns, they should expect local health inspectors to be out and they will be looking for infractions. He is also reminding them that if service is suspended the pest management program will be starting again from scratch and the efforts to get back into a pest-free condition will probably cost significantly more than if they maintained service.

Joe Barile

Joe Barile, BCE

Challenges with schools, libraries and other public establishments
We may expect similar challenges with schools, libraries and other public establishments that could be closed for extended periods. Remind the managers of these facilities that operations may be closed, but pests are still active and if they are forced to seek new resource sites an empty, quiet facility would allow populations to spread unopposed.

Communication is important
PMPs will have to be at their best regarding communication, negotiating and most of all empathy. Pest service is probably the last thing many clients have been thinking about. Think of the health care segment. These sites, and their staffs are the front-line responders we have in this current battle. It may be wise to contact these accounts in advance to remind them of scheduling and the importance of maintaining service. Health care workers are laser-focused on this virus right now, but infection control in the facility from vector-borne organisms is still a priority. Managers should also prepare technicians and supervisors that may visit these accounts for personal protection and coordinate access to very sensitive areas in the account if service is required. The high traffic from patients, staff, public health professionals and even deliveries of goods and supplies will mean lots of open doors. Evaluate outdoor temporary examination/treatment sites for pest pressure and potential service.

Effective outdoor perimeter treatment will go a long way
For residential accounts, customers may not want to allow entry by a technician at this time. However, an effective outdoor perimeter treatment will go a long way to keep customers happy and on board. Spring is here and, as I understand in the southern tier of the country, pests are already active. Advise clients of the value and contribution that the outdoor service will provide. Make sure technicians are paying attention to details when they are inspecting and treating these accounts. Take the time to put insecticides in all the appropriate harborage and entry sites (always read and follow all label directions for every insecticide you use). Consider hard-to-control invading pests like spiders, scorpions and stink bugs that historically may not show up until later in the season. Utilize premium formulations that can withstand and survive outdoor exposures to ultraviolet and precipitation, while providing extended residual control even on challenging surfaces like cement, mulch, stone and sand. An effective perimeter treatment now can reduce prey species activity and suppress spider and scorpion pressure later. Paying attention to and treating entry points now (especially difficult-to-treat sites) will pay off by reducing activity and pressure as the seasonal build of these populations occur.

Yards are valuable space for families
For PMPs that provide mosquito control services, remind your customers that their yards are going to be valuable ‘space’ their families will be able to use during these restrictive times. Kids will need space to burn off energy, Mom and Dad could use a quiet refuge for stress relief, and everyone will need some fresh air regularly. Barrier treatments are an important contributor to making this personal space more enjoyable.

Bait formulations
If you are servicing indoors, consider using bait formulations. These products can provide long-term control; can usually be applied in occupied rooms; and don’t require re-entry times. Choose baits that provide secondary mortality where single exposed individuals can deliver mortality to other members of the population that don’t feed on or touch the bait. And don’t forget some ‘old-tech’ that is still effective against ants, cockroaches and adult stored product beetles: bait stations. Often forgotten, insect bait stations are effective and provide long residual control.

Think long-term about the newer digital technologies
As we adapt to these challenging social changes it may be a good time to think long-term about the newer digital technologies available to the pest management industry. The threats of interrupted service schedules and managing a restricted pool of available technicians, while adapting to sensitive customers and sites, indicate to me the value these solutions can provide in staying current with pest activity by reporting accurate, valuable information to your customers in real-time, and planning responses in a manner that all stakeholders can interpret. The current offerings in this segment are focused on remote monitoring (rodents and specific insects), but provide a depth of value that many PMPs are not aware of. The collection of surveillance data and the processing of this information can provide the PMP and their customers insights that are incredibly easy to interpret and understand so that action plans can be made faster and communicated to all partners in a format that non-pest people understand. The fact is, those systems are there when you can’t be and that may help give your customers peace of mind.

We are ready to support you
At Bayer, we pride ourselves in our stewardship of our products and solutions and in the partnerships we have made with our pest management customers. Even during this disruptive period where we may not be walking through the door, we are ready to support you. If there is anything you believe we can help you with, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Stay well, stay safe and stay vigilant. Society needs your important services now more than ever.

Read more COVID-19 coverage here: MyPMP.net/COVID-19


BARILE is the technical service lead for Pest Management & Public Health at Bayer Environmental Science. He can be reached at joe.barile@bayer.com.

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