Bed Bugs Threaten Hotels in the Time of COVID-19

By Joseph Latino

Pest control has been deemed an essential service by Homeland Security and the vast majority of states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet concerns about social distancing and possible exposure to the coronavirus has significantly slowed, or stopped, treatments for public health-related structural pests, including bed bugs. This is especially worrisome as recent data suggests that bed bugs may contribute to asthma and breathing complications, leading to even more severe cases of COVID-19 for the 25 million asthmatics in the U.S.

Hotels throughout the country are repurposing to become centers for COVID-19 patients and frontline healthcare workers. We applaud these efforts. Unfortunately, the unforeseen consequence of this interim repurposing makes these properties even more vulnerable to bed bug infestations. With any influx of new occupants, there will be an increase in the number of bed bug introductions.

Before COVID-19, hotels benefited from daily inspections by housekeeping staff, alerts from guests and quick action from contracted pest management professionals (PMPs) to treat bed bug incidents. Now, early detection is less likely and timely treatment by PMPs may not be available. Untreated, infestations can quickly grow exponentially and will spread throughout properties. For example, in 70 days, one pregnant female can create more than 30,000 bed bugs.

Delaying treatment and the failure to implement preventive programs simply worsens the inevitable. Bed bugs will expand throughout the facility, causing undue harm and stress to occupants and staff while resulting in extensive remediation expense. Compounding the problem is that bed-ridden COVID-19 patients are a prime, unmoving food source for bed bugs, whose bites, when repeatedly scratched, can result in further infections. Bed bug prevention can mean the difference between treating a few rooms versus expensive, building-wide treatment.

Finally, when your COVID-19-related occupants leave, your bed bugs will not. It is important to note even nonrepurposed hotels, as a result of reduced census, may start noticing bed bug issues spread through their properties as existing bed bugs are forced to move throughout the property to find blood meals in occupied rooms.

What Can Hoteliers Do?
The archaic approach of reactive treatments is simply not an effective long-term strategy to control bed bug infestations.

Left unaddressed, bed bugs can spread to infest entire hotels over a several-month time period. This results in difficult, extensive and costly treatments; significant facility-wide disruption; and unnecessarily prolonged interactions with pest managers, which is especially problematic during today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Adopting a preventive strategy can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars in unwanted bed bug treatment costs.  Using well-established COVID-19 hygiene guidelines, pest management professionals can implement field-proven preventive programs that will significantly reduce bed bug incidents. These proactive measures will ensure the well-being of the occupants, reduce operational expenses, protect the facility against expensive remediation costs and reduce ownership liability from bed bug-related legal activity.

Another opportunity for hoteliers is when COVID-19 restrictions relax and hotels are undergoing sanitization before returning to normal guest service. At that time, they should seriously consider a hotel-wide assessment including bed bug detection, treatment if necessary and implementation of proven preventive strategies. These measures are significantly easier to enact, less disruptive and less expensive while the hotel is unoccupied.

Striking the Right Balance
In trying to control the delicate balance between the short-term needs of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and securing public safety through responsible pest control, the unintended hazards of deferring treatment of bed bugs must be recognized. Even in the short and medium term, performing field-proven preventive treatments now will reduce the contact time between occupants, staff and pest management. Financially, early adoption of bed bug prevention will save hoteliers unnecessary pest control costs; guest compensation; staff time; legal expense; and reduced census and lost room revenue resulting from negative social media.

We must maintain the best practice guidelines put forth by the CDC and other regulating agencies while ensuring that hotels are not subjected to bed bugs running amok.  While there is a health risk if proper social distancing and hygiene are not practiced by pest management, hotels may also suffer liability from the consequences of restricting the performance of integrated pest management-centric pest control.  Therefore, it is more important than ever that we demonstrate sound and cautious judgment in navigating pest management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current crisis brings to mind the wise words of Ben Franklin: “…an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Joseph Latino is president of Allergy Technologies, which manufactures products and programs addressing major issues in both pest control and healthcare.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.