COVID-19 takes bite out of local mosquito control hiring, service requests and disease testing

Potential setbacks in mosquito fight

St. Johns County, Fla. — Action News Jax is investigating concerns around local mosquito control programs designed to protect your health and safety as COVID-19 has caused delays in hiring, testing, and has postponed researched that is supposed to help fight diseases like Dengue Fever and Zika.

“The only bad scenario if we all get COVID-19 and can’t do our jobs,” said Eddie Zeszutko who is the educational specialist with Anastasia mosquito control in St. Johns County.

Zeszutko tells Action News Jax reporter Ben Becker the district had to delay hiring seasonal workers from March to June, keeping them understaffed by 30%.

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“That’s not significant in your mind?” asked Becker. “No because everyone on staff has their pesticide license so anyone can go out and help treat the area,” Zeszutko said.

Another potential setback is that the district has not been able to release sterile male mosquitos into the wild as part of a research study with the federal government.

The sterile males are potentially important because if they mate with the females, there’s no off-spring reducing mosquito population.

The research is important because it plays a role in controlling the spread of diseases including Zika, Yellow Fever and dengue fever. Scientists are especially concerned about dengue, which is one of the most common mosquito-borne diseases in Florida, infecting 16 people in 2019.

Duval County mosquito control sent Action News Jax an email acknowledging the impacts of COVID-19 on disease testing, service requests, and the use of sterilized males:

“COVID-19 has impacted surveillance with a delay in State lab testing sentinel blood samples for WNV and EEE. The staff at the lab was re-directed to testing the COVID-19 samples. As of the middle of June, the state lab has returned to testing sentinel blood samples, and we have ordered our sentinel chickens for the surveillance monitoring. COVID-19 caused approximately a two-month delay in activating these sentinel sites.

“COVID-19 did cause some delays in response to service requests, due to modification of work schedule to minimize contact with each other and the public during the early stages of the emergency. We have since returned to full operational status with the city reopening at the beginning of June.

“COVID-19 has probably delayed the process/opportunity to use sterilized male mosquitoes as a tool in mosquito control. We have not yet been releasing sterilized males into the community. Anastasia MCD has recently been approved to move forward with the sterilization process and is acquiring funding to construct the facilities for mass sterilization. Mosquito Control would most likely procure sterilized mosquitoes from the Anastasia MCD facility. when they are available.”

Zeszutko says there are no signs that mosquitos can transmit COVID-19.