A perfect storm of events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have boosted the mosquito population in Orange County, vector control officials said Wednesday.
Light misty rains in May, higher than usual spring temperatures, reductions in staffing due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic downturn discouraging residents from more regular cleaning of their pools are among the reasons for the higher mosquito counts, said Heather Hyland, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District.
For the past six weeks, the OCMVCD has been averaging higher mosquito counts compared with the same period last year. The district's traps are averaging 110 mosquitoes per trap, compared to 24 per trap last year at this time.
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Rain brings standing water, which is a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, Hyland said. Higher temperatures also help the mosquitoes breed, she noted.
When it's hot, "they tend to go through the metamorphosis stage faster," Hyland said.
Due to the pandemic, there have been less employees available to help respond to mosquito complaints, Hyland said. The district also needed more personal protection equipment for additional staff; could only staff one person per car instead of two because of social distancing requirements; and could not have inspectors share a locker room, she said.
"It cut our seasonal workers in half," Hyland said.
The county has about 3,000 swimming pools that need more maintenance, she said.
With so many residents laid off or furloughed, they might lack the funds to pay to have their pools more regularly cleaned, Hyland said.
So far, officials have not seen any evidence of West Nile virus this season, but the higher mosquito count can lead to WNV, Hyland said.
Vector Control District officials are encouraging residents to look for and eliminate standing water around their homes to cut down on the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. That includes paying attention to pet dishes, bird houses or kiddie pools, because 100 mosquitoes can breed in a cap full of water, Hyland said.
The district will soon roll out a program encouraging residents to send in videos of them taking actions to help stem the spread of mosquitoes, and the winners, who will be selected randomly, will receive tickets to the local zoo and museums.