Question: Dan, I am confused. Are bed bug issues simply going to go away due to the pandemic, or are they a disaster waiting to happen?
— Unsure Now ‘Cause Life Exerts Atypical Reality
Answer: Hey there, UNCLEAR. The short answers are likely: no, and possibly. But given that those answers are useless, let’s look a little more deeply.
It is hardly groundbreaking to say we remain in a time of great uncertainty because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. This uncertainty, however, should lead us to be wary of making far-reaching projections about what one pest or another is going to do. Instead, we should prepare ourselves to respond to situations through training, education and awareness.
Human travel — even visiting a neighbor next door, or moving from one home to another — is one of the most common ways bed bugs move from place to place. However, bed bugs also can move from one infested room to another in multi-unit housing or in hospitality settings.
We just came through a period where many people weren’t traveling, which probably impacted the number of hospitality-related service calls. We know bed bugs require bloodmeals to survive and reproduce, and hotels and motels that have been mostly vacant may not have as much activity as they did.
But some other things have changed, too. Most of the hospitality facilities that have stayed open also decreased housekeeping staff and room cleaning frequency. Staff trained to look for signs of bed bug activity may no longer be working at your client’s location, and — speaking from firsthand experience — reduced hotel housekeeping activities may allow preventable infestations to develop.
Let’s also not forget the impact of stay-at-home orders. Some residents being home much more may have been forced to fix bed bug or other pest control infestations independently. Particularly with bed bugs, most do-it-yourself attempts to solve pest problems fail, or make the situation worse by inducing the bed bugs to move to other parts of a residence or building. However, although pest management professionals are officially classified as essential workers, some people have been reluctant to allow service professionals into their homes. And in some cases, there aren’t enough professionals available to provide timely service.
Further complicating a newly discovered residential problem is the unfortunate social stigma of having a bed bug infestation. As with the stay-at-home orders, social stigma causes people to suffer in silence while trying to resolve problems on their own. The infestation can become more widespread, and as the residents become more desperate, they may use more pesticide than is recommended — which presents a whole new set of problems.
I cannot see the future, but if I had to guess, I would say pandemic-related circumstances still hide the actual level of need for bed bug management services. That being the case, I would suggest companies review their inspection and treatment protocols, and focus on training and educating the frontline team members who perform bed bug-related inspections and services. These services require patient, thorough, detailed inspections and services. Client understanding and cooperation are needed, too.