People from pest control service doing disinfection in office

By Benjamin Hottel, BCE

With many businesses and schools operating virtually, it’s tempting for facility managers to put routine maintenance and cleaning on hold. But, that’s the opposite of what should happen, given the potent threat of COVID-19 and other silent intruders.

Even if facilities remain closed, there are many serious reasons why regular cleaning and pest management should continue during this unique time of social distancing. The Department of Homeland Security named pest control as an essential business during quarantine for good reason.

Think back to when local communities adopted stay-at-home guidelines. Building occupants were sent home before they could tidy up. Across the country, breakrooms, desks and workstations were hastily abandoned, along with snacks, unclean coffee cups, trashcan debris and counters that may not have been wiped clean.

These dark, empty work settings may feel like human ghost towns now, but they are the perfect playgrounds for insects and other pests. And, with critters free to roam, the building may face more than just a cleaning problem. Rats, mice, cockroaches, flies and ants are just a few of the pests that could be gaining entry when managers least expect it. Here’s a closer look at why routine cleaning and pest management should continue, even during lockdown.

While the cat’s away the rodents shall prey
Empty streets and reduced community activities force rodents to travel more than usual in pursuit of food. Facility doors may be locked, but rats and mice may find alternative access.

Mice can squeeze through a hole a quarter inch wide, and rats through holes as small as one-half inch. Gaps under closed doors, around utility and plumbing lines, and poorly maintained vents provide an open invitation for hungry rodents. Some species, like roof rats, prefer to stay elevated. They may climb on power lines or tree branches to get on the roof, entering through gaps in the air handling and utilities found there.
Even in facilities that are sealed up tight, rodents can create entryways with their strong teeth. Norway rats will gnaw away at hard surfaces to enlarge a potential entryway or often burrow their way inside by digging. Once in the facility, they can cause serious structural problems. Rats can do extensive — and expensive — damage, from chewing on electrical wires to ripping up insulation, and damaging furniture and storage boxes. Their chewing can even ignite an electrical fire.

These pests are more than just food scavengers — they are a threat to public health. If the facility includes a restaurant or cafeteria, it is especially attractive to mice, which feed 15 to 20 times per day and can contaminate up to 10 times the amount of food they eat. What’s worse, they multiply at an alarming rate, which further increases risk to your property. Rats begin reproducing from two to five months, introducing four to six new litters each year. Mice are even more prolific.

Rodents spread diseases such as salmonellosis, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, and hantavirus through their droppings, urine and saliva. Hantavirus, which is spread primarily by deer mice in the Western U.S., is particularly concerning since it has a 35 percent fatality rate. This disease alone makes continued sanitation and rodent control particularly important in that area of the country.

Insect invaders do not social distance
German cockroaches also carry pathogens that can cause food poisoning and dysentery. Because they also reproduce rapidly, infestations quickly become severe. They lay up to 40 eggs at a time, which mature in about two months.

Flies pick up germs and then spread these pathogens by contaminating food and water. Drain and fruit fly populations will quickly multiply if left to their own devices.

Ants can enter your space through the tiniest of holes. Once inside, they are hard to control. Often, they leave an invisible pheromone trail that invites the rest of their colony to join them. Aside from being a nuisance, they can also contaminate food, which is a particular hazard to food service spaces.

Given all these pest possibilities and the lingering concern about COVID-19, now is an important time to thoroughly inspect and disinfect your facilities, and continue routine pest management. Once authorities decide it’s safe to reopen public spaces, organizations don’t want to lose any time getting back to business. 

Tips for comforting, welcoming spaces after quarantine
Once workers, visitors and students return to facilities, they will likely be more conscious of cleanliness and germ control. Below are some tips to help cleaning professionals maintain a safe and comfortable environment for all who enter.

Practice good sanitation. Trash cans should have a secure lid and be emptied on a regular basis. Be sure to have dumpsters cleaned and rotated to help reduce the potent smells that can attract bugs and rodents. Keeping these receptacles sparkling clean will reassure tenants and visitors that cleaning professionals are on top of sanitation.

Maintain landscaping. Mice can hide amongst tall grass and overgrown bushes. Norway rats are accomplished diggers and burrowers, making them attracted to uncut grass and thick shrubs. Regular landscape maintenance can help reduce rodent hideouts that lead them closer to the property.

Keep the facility clean and disinfect surfaces. Use a powerful, low-toxicity disinfectant to kill bacteria and other pathogens that may be living on surfaces. Failure to properly disinfect frequently used touchpoints can lead to the spread of diseases, like COVID-19. Ensure the disinfectant used is included on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “List N.” These products are EPA-registered and labeled for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Orkin, for example, uses a powerful disinfectant on the list that can disinfect not only SARS-CoV-2, but a wide range of other bacteria and viruses on hard, non-porous surfaces such as Salmonella, E. coli and Hantavirus. Providing this extra layer of protection will be expected with lingering concerns about contagious viruses such as the novel coronavirus.

Involve a pest control provider. Have a provider conduct an inspection to ensure the property is constantly protected. Continuing environmentally friendly pest prevention services will be even more important once facilities are back in business.

This scary pandemic has ushered in a new normal for all facility executives. It will likely result in continued changes for space planners and property managers. If cleaning professionals step up sanitation and pest management throughout this challenging time, re-entry will be easier and more pleasant for the cleaning team and facility occupants.

Benjamin Hottel is a Technical Services Manager for Rollins. He provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of training and education, operations and marketing. For more information, email