Following a week that identified bed bugs at Miner Elementary in Northeast, and citations by the D.C. Health department that shuttered luxury food depot Dean & Deluca and a Whole Foods – both in Georgetown – concerns have grown among city officials and residents that the District may soon be overrun with pests.

Minor Elementary in Northeast is the latest school to be affected in the city’s growing problem with rodents and bed bugs. (Courtesy photo)

Minor Elementary in Northeast is the latest school to be affected in the city’s growing problem with rodents and bed bugs. (Courtesy photo)

The District of Columbia has long been a hub for rodents – with tunnels, waterways, and occasional lapses in abatement; however, the D.C. Department of Health said there has been a drastic increase in calls to report rats, following four years of steady rodent decline. The city logged more than 3,000 rat complaints in fiscal year 2015-2016, causing Mayor Muriel Bowser to launch a rat-riddance program. The program, linking the Department of Health with the National Park Service, began inspecting and treating national parks in the city, including DuPont Circle, where frequent visitors spot an average of 12 to 20 rats each visit.

“The National Park Service is committed to ensuring safe, positive experiences for visitors in all of our parks, and this agreement with the D.C. Department of Health provides us better tools to control the rodent population,” said Robert Vogel, director of the National Capital Region for the National Park Service, in a statement. “By simplifying the reporting process and decreasing the response time for treatment of affected areas, we are working together toward a rat-free D.C.”

But for parents of Savoy Elementary School, in Southeast, scheduled to reopen Feb. 27 following a temporary closure to treat both rats and bedbugs, fears have not been so easily assuaged. Despite the efforts by DCPS to proactively work to prevent and treat potential threats from pests, a recent Orkin Pest Control report noted the District has seen a 57 percent increase in its rat population – stressing the increase was among rats, not mice.

Similar to large cities like Philadelphia and New York, D.C. has extended its abatement programs with increased patrols and treatments. Still, with increased property development and infrastructure improvements, including breaking open ground to modernize pipes, results are minimal.

Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles told the AFRO that abating rodents across the city, but especially in schools, required improved habits of those inside as well as structural improvements to keep vermin from entering buildings. “With the rodents, it isn’t always easy because with all of the construction we have in the city the displacement of one population of rats means that they go somewhere ,” Niles said. “We need to make sure that we have school buildings with no entry in for rodents, and when we have buildings where rodents have entered that we don’t allow them to thrive. Different sites have different challenges, but these are best practices.”

Ward 6 resident Donna Haskins told the AFRO that Niles’ assessment should be a city-wide mandate for schools, residences, and businesses. “It is easy to point a finger at DCPS or the individual restaurants and businesses, like Whole Foods, but the truth whether you are downtown near the Archives, east of the river, or in ritzy Georgetown, the rats are everywhere,” Haskins said. “Yet and still, people are still throwing garbage down, allowing their trash to overflow, and basically inviting the rats to hang out.”

The DOH asks residents to: eliminate all clutter around the outside of homes and under porches; store any garbage in metal or heavy plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and place trash at point of collection shortly before pickup – not days in advance; remove weeds and debris near your property/yards where rats can hide easily. Plants such as English Ivy, Periwinkle, Pachysandra, and Hosta are known to be cover for rats; remove uneaten pet food, and store pet food in secure containers; and add metal weather stripping and trim to doors to prevent rodents from gnawing and entering underneath.