Cites across the world have been dealing with growing rat infestations. In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, rats lost much of their dependable food sources from restaurants and instead turned to the increasing supplies of residential garbage. As New York City opens up, it has witnessed a massive surge in rat sightings; “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).”
In Albert Camus’ The Plague, rats are terrifying omens that precede the onset of the plague in the town’s human inhabitants. Despite their long history as harbingers of disease, today they are just an aftereffect to COVID-19. Unlike the rats in Oran dying terrible deaths, these contemporary rodents seem to be thriving as restaurants open back up.
The townspeople of Oran are terrified by the appearance of the rats, the first sign that something is out of place. Their strange behavior is noticed throughout the town yet seems to inspire more concern than the first reports of disease in humans (although the local government does its best to suppress this news).
“The local press, so lavish of news about the rats, now had nothing to say. For rats died in the street; men in their homes.”
It is the rats that seem to unsettle the townspeople more than the plague. Perhaps this is because humans have become very accustomed to their position as the dominant species and other animals seem to factor so little into their considerations of danger that when these animals change behavior en masse, it serves as a reminder that we are not immune to changes in our ecosystem. COVID-19 was likely transmitted from a bat. Although we are driving many species of bats to extinction, it took very little for one bat to change the course of human history.