May 10, 2017 – By Andrea Cantor
“Nighty night, don’t let the bedbugs bite” may be more than just a nighttime saying for the Sarah Lawrence community. In the past semester, there have been reported cases of bedbugs, and the reports are calling into question the protocols the school has for informing the community.
Maureen Gallagher, the assistant vice president for facilities, confirmed the presence of bedbugs at SLC. Gallagher stated, “We have confirmed cases of bedbugs this year. We are extremely proactive once we are informed of a potential situation. As soon as a student notifies us they believe they have bedbugs we move quickly and work closely with the student.”
A student who requested to remain anonymous, has been dealing with bedbugs since the start of the semester. It began when she noticed bites, ranging from pea to quarter sized marks. She said, “I never actually saw them. The Monday classes started I got little welts on my arms mainly. I had, at first, three on one arm, but by that Thursday of that week I had a least 12 I think. I tried to convince myself it was just dried skin, but they were very itchy, red and inflamed.”
The four parties that are involved in dealing with a reported case are the student, Facilities, Health & Wellness Center, and the school’s hired exterminator. “The Student must be seen by a medical clinician at the Health & Wellness Center to examine the bites and confirm that the cause is from bedbugs,” Gallagher explained. “My office contacts our pest control vendor who arrives on campus the same day, if not the next morning if the report comes in later in the day.” The pest control vendor is hired to do an initial treatment and follow up surveys of the room. All parties inform the student on how to proceed with washing their clothing and sheets as well as on other preventative measures.
In accordance with the protocols the anonymous student, who lives on the second floor of Dudley Lawrence, was checked at the Health & Wellness Center, and the exterminator came within an hour of being called. The exterminator detected evidence of bedbugs, including one live bug, but he concluded that it was not an infestation. The student cleaned her sheets, encased her mattress with a protective casing, and notified Facilities of people she hangs out with. “Operations asked me where I spend a lot of time. They asked me the names of people I spend a lot of time with so I gave them two of my friends’ names and they checked their rooms,” she said. They found evidence of [bedbug] fecal matter in one of my friend’s rooms, but they didn’t find any actual bed bugs.” They treated the Andrews Court Room for bedbugs, which apparently also had a spider infestation.
The exterminator has been to this student’s dorm a handful of times, including when she found a live bug both following the initial treatment as well as preceding spring break that started on March 11. After each visit, including his two visits during spring break, the exterminator maintained that the situation was not an infestation.The anonymous student, who stayed in the Hyatt hotel for two nights after seeing the first live bedbug, said her main issue was that Facilities did not notify the people on her floor. “I wish they would alert at least everyone on my floor, because I had to be the one to tell my bathroom mate and tell the person across the hall from me,” she stated. She noted that both people were nice about the situation. “They put me in an awkward position where I feel the need to tell people, but it’s not my job,” she continued.
After being informed by this student, the bathroom mate requested the exterminator to come to her room. No bedbugs were found in the adjacent room and it is unknown of whether other rooms in the building were checked by the pest control vendor.
Wade Wallerstein (’17) was another person the student notified. He said he could understand not wanting to create hysteria, “I understand that bed bugs can be contained if caught early enough, and I appreciate the school’s concern in not wanting to create panic amongst the inhabitants of Dudley Lawrence. I also understand that relocating all of us and spraying the entire building would be highly costly, invasive, and potentially harmful (due to the insecticides that they would need to spray).” Wallerstein did not have his room inspected, but he affirmed that he knows how to check for bedbugs himself. He continued, “I’m no entomologist, or exterminator, but I think that in this case, the school got lucky. They might not be so next time.”
“We do a limited spraying. We use a dry steam, we co vacuuming steaming, traps and bed covers,” said Bob Ciardullo, the exterminator who treated the student’s room. He explained that the treatment he employs uses low levels of pesticides and typically takes one to two rounds to get rid of the bedbugs. “We follow up automatically in two weeks, but sometime there are bed bugs that come out from hiding during that time,” he continued. Ciardullo said he has treated a “handful” of bedbug cases this year at Sarah Lawrence, but the situation in Dudley Lawrence was low leveled. “What is most important is finding out who the person hangs out with. Bedbugs hitchhike from person to person,”Ciardullo continued. In his estimation, treating other rooms would have been “needless” and that this was the most effective approach given the situation.
But it cannot be said for certain that the situation is contained without alerting the rest of campus. Perhaps the student brought in the bedbugs from the city or from another location, but bedbugs are very easy to spread and could have feasibly come from another Sarah Lawrence resident. Bedbugs can spread through clothing, boxes, furniture and other items. The bugs rarely transmit diseases, but are still considered a health hazard and too small to be easily detected by the naked eye. It is very possible that students, especially with their hectic schedules, will relegate bites as either rashes or in this student’s case, “dry skin.”
Mary Hartnett, director of medical services, explained that the Health & Wellness Center does not have a protocol in place for notifying the campus, since it does not confirm the presence of bedbugs. She explained, “It would be inappropriate for us to notify the campus based on our assessment, because we don’t confirm the presence of bed bugs, the exterminator does. If bed bugs are confirmed, the exterminator and Facilities requests a list of places the student frequents and a list of students who frequent the place where bugs are found. The exterminator checks these areas.” Asked for a comparable situation, Hartnett explained that if the case were lice, there is a procedure in place to inform the student body so that they can be checked.
Informing the community goes beyond the students who live in the dorms. The professors and facility workers who work in the building were not notified of the Dudley Lawrence bedbug situation. English professor Neil Arditi and history professor Fredric Smoler, whose offices are in Dudley Lawrence, said they were not notified. Both refrained from commenting. Sal Haddad, a SLC worker, said he has never been warned about bedbugs and wished the school would inform the workers so that they could prepare better. Haddad said, “If we go somewhere where there is lead paint or dust, we prepare for it. We put the mask on, the jumpsuits on, gloves, but if they don’t tell you about anything else in the room, you just go in it and then the next thing you know—you have bedbugs.”