Rats swarm New Orleans' streets as coronavirus precautions leave them empty

New Orleans faces rat problem amid pandemic

Last Updated Mar 29, 2020 11:42 AM EDT

Precautions put in place to slow the rise of coronavirus cases in New Orleans has inadvertently led to a rat problem for the Louisiana city. With restaurants closed save for take-out service, far less food waste is being discarded in the city's alleyways, driving the local rodent population out into the open to search for scraps. 

New Orleans' famous Mardi Gras celebration brought thousands of tourists to the city, and medical experts believe it might be a big factor in the city's COVID-19 outbreak. Now with Bourbon Street's famous bars all closed and people social distancing, videos show dozens of rats scurrying through the empty streets.

"I turn the corner, there's about 30 rats at the corner, feasting on something in the middle of the street," Charles Marsala of New Orleans Insider Tours and AWE News told CBS News' Omar Villafranca. Marsala said he had "never" seen anything like it before.

To control the population, city crews started putting bait in the gutters and placing rat traps throughout the French Quarter neighborhood. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the rats were going "crazy." 

Claudia Regal, head of the local pest control board, expressed concern about the possible infections the rat infestation could spread to the local homeless population. 

"There are pathogens in these rodents. Fortunately, we don't see many of the health outcomes. We don't have very many disease cases that are actually related to rodents. But the potential is there," she said during a press conference. 

She called it a "difficult time to be a rat" due to the limited availability of food scraps.