If you've seen more rats than you've cared to see in NYC, skittering between garbage bags and meandering down in the subway tracks, you're not alone. NYC's rat sightings have skyrocketed this year, according to the Associated Press.
Using city data from 311, the AP found that there were 7,400 reported rat sightings, which is up from about 6,150 during the same period last year, and up by more than 60% from roughly the first four months of 2019—the last pre-pandemic year.
In fact, each month between January and April 2022 had the highest number of sightings since 2010, which was the first year online records became available. In 2010, there were about 10,500 sightings in total, and in 2021, there were 25,000, according to the AP.
It's not clear if there are actually more rats or if sightings are up because New Yorkers are outdoors more often in the warmer weather and, of course, during the pandemic.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio tried attacking the rat problem by targeting certain neighborhoods with more trash pickups and housing inspections, but the pandemic brought more streetside dining and curbside sheds, which encourage rats to hide out nearby and pounce on any food that falls to the ground. The subways became barren, meaning fewer food scraps to find there, so rats may have made their way up to street level.
The AP says that at least 13 people were hospitalized — one died — last year from leptospirosis, a disease associated with rats that attacks the kidneys and liver.
Matt Frye, a pest management specialist for the state of New York at Cornell University, told the AP that the proliferation of rats depends on how much food is available to them and where.
NYC is now doubling down on its efforts to resolve the trash issue. Mayor Eric Adams is kicking off what he calls the Clean Curbs Pilot. NYC Sanitation will install containerized waste bins across all five boroughs to hold trash bags that are usually on the curb up until trash collection. (The first new containers were just installed in Times Square at 41st Street and Seventh Avenue and 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue.)
Adams and Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch also announced an $11 million investment toward new street sweeper vehicles. The novel machines are specifically designed to fit into narrow spaces like bike lanes, aiming to clean previously unreachable areas.
"It’s time to toss out the old way of collecting trash in our city," said New York City councilmember Shaun Abreu in an official statement. "The Clean Curbs pilot will introduce a top-notch tactic for keeping trash from piling up on our streets. Our residents and businesses can breathe a sigh of relief knowing these containers will keep the neighborhood clean and rodents at bay."