Brittany Brown and her friends were finishing an outdoor dinner in Chelsea recently when, from the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something move near the edge of their table.
Moments later, she thought she saw it again.
Then she made eye contact with a man sitting nearby, and he confirmed what worried her: A rat had been on the table. If that weren’t icky enough, one skittered through the restaurant shed as she left.
“It’s gross and it’s kind of unnerving,” said Ms. Brown, a copy editor who has lived in Manhattan for four years. She did not want to name the restaurant and single it out for what she considers a bigger issue.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she said.
Rodents are among New York’s permanent features. But across the city, one hears the same thing: They are running amok like never before.
Through Wednesday, there had been more than 21,000 rat sightings reported to 311 this year, compared with 15,000 in the same period in 2019 (and about 12,000 in 2014). The rate of initial health inspections to uncover “active rats signs” nearly doubled in the latest fiscal year. There have also been 15 cases this year — the most since at least 2006 — of leptospirosis, which can cause serious liver and kidney damage and, in the city, typically spreads via rat urine, according to health officials. One case was fatal.
So add a plague of rats to everything else New York faces in trying to rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic. By some measures, the problem may have eased slightly before the coronavirus came. But the rodents have roared back since, thanks to a confluence of factors.
The spike is mostly in areas long known as infested, health officials insist. In one such area, Manhattan’s East Village, it was evident on a recent Friday night.
Jean O’Hearn, a lawyer, said she had never seen so many rats on her block, East Third Street between Avenues A and B, in 28 years there. As if on cue, one raced out from under a white S.U.V. about eight feet away and crossed the sidewalk.
“Oh, there they are!” exclaimed a neighbor, James Gilbert, as the rodent wiggled through a side door into a courtyard behind Ms. O’Hearn’s building. Seconds later, two more dashed from the street toward several trash bags.
“They’re everywhere,” Mr. Gilbert said.
Another neighbor, Maria Cortes, chimed in: “They’re everywhere — and they’re fat!” Ms. Cortes, a 45-year tenant of the building, said she jangles her keys when she approaches the front door to clear rats from her path.