This letter began as an additional response to a petition form originating from the NALP (National Association of Landscape Professionals) to be sent to our state governor and representatives imploring them to officially recognize the federal governments’ recommendations and guidelines concerning essential businesses, and to make our particular states’ “Stay at Home” (Executive Order 2020-21) issued on March 24th much more clear and rational. (That order has since been replaced by the new, even more devastating and disturbing order (Executive Order 2020-42). As I was reading the NALP petition, I felt that this issue is much more personal to me, my employees, my family, and my clients than that of any monetary consideration. So much so that I decided this should be the topic my first blog.
To begin, I want to make it very clear that ALL federal agencies, to include the CDC, FEMA, EPA, and DHS specifically list landscaping and pest control services as essential. The DHS went so far as change their original memorandum, published March 19th, so that landscaping services would be clearly designated within the update, published March 28th (USDHS CISA Memorandum of Critical Infrastructure Workers), because they felt that the first publication was not clear enough about what public health, sanitation, and the necessary maintenance of residences meant.
All federal and state guidelines which were cited in both of Gov. Whitmers’ executive orders and by the Michigan Attorney General (found at Michigan.gov), list exterminators/pest control specifically as being essential (even in the original March 19th guidelines). The March 28th updated list is provided under the Public Works and Infrastructure heading and states as being essential: “Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, builders, contractors, HVAC Technicians, landscapers, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, businesses and buildings such as hospitals, senior living facilities, any temporary construction required to support COVID-19 response.” Unfortunately, our governor is one of only 2 in the nation who are choosing to ignore these guidelines, even after having referenced them, to the detriment of all our health and our economy (originally there were 3, New York realized their mistake last week and rescinded its’ order).
What makes us so essential that we are specifically listed as being vital to national security in times of great disaster?
· The fact is that the services provided by our industry are services that cannot be done safely by many of our clients even under normal circumstances. Requiring them to do so now puts them and the rest of us at far greater risk due to the potential spread of Covid-19. Further, expecting elderly citizens, clients of ill health, and handicapped individuals to perform these types of services puts them at extremely high risk of much
more damaging or even deadly outcomes than any perceived or even real threat from this particular virus.
· Lawn care services greatly decrease allergy causing weeds. For clients with severe allergies and asthma this is a necessary and even life-saving service. Those same clients cannot perform these services as it puts them in direct contact with the very allergens causing them harm. Many of them have no one to help them, and for those who do, expecting or asking a family member or neighbor to do so when they have a service provider already, puts those people unnecessarily at risk instead.
· Insect controls and services that maintain properties are necessary to combat fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, poisonous spiders, wasps, and ground bees which are clearly recognized by the WHO, CDC, and all other state and federal entities as major vectors causing diseases and death. Again, most customers who employ our services, count on us to care for them so that they do not have to expose themselves to the threats involved, or are unable to perform these tasks on their own.
· Structural Pest Control Services are needed to maintain and eradicate damage and disease causing insects in and around the home. Carpenter Ants are now expanding their colonies both inside and outside houses and business causing structural damage. Stinging and biting insects are beginning to wake and forage outside of the wall voids they hatched in. This means that disease carriers like kissing bugs and mites are literally coming out of the woodwork. Spiders, fleas, and ticks need to be controlled now to keep homeowners, their children, and their pets safe. Waiting until after an infestation has begun and then deciding to treat after someone is hospitalized, dies, or has been infected with a life altering disease is an abhorrent idea.
· Mosquitoes in Michigan this year have already infected at least 9 people and caused 4 deaths from West Nile Virus (MDHSS Michigan West Nile Virus Update 4/14/20). That’s nearly a 50% mortality rate and we are still months away from peak mosquito season! Last year a confirmed case wasn’t even seen until June. It’s important to note that one of the biggest differences between the two years is that mosquitoes have been out for 3 weeks now and no controls have been done due to the governors’ order. We all know that prevention is the best cure for any disease including Covid-19.
· According to the CDC over 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the US every year. Lyme disease causes death, paralysis, and many other permanent life altering, and life threatening conditions. Unfortunately, the governors’ interpretation contained in the FAQ regarding her order states, “routine concerns, such as about longer grass increasing insects, pests, or allergies, do not qualify [as essential].” This statement flies
in the face of any logical argument. It directly contradicts every other government agency and all the experts involved, including the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. These two agencies routinely speak at lawn and pest control conferences as well as professional classes. At every one they cite the absolute necessity of preventing insect and mosquito borne diseases through the use of pesticides and proper landscaping and sanitation practices. In fact, the very guides we have to study and memorize to pass the state pesticide licensing exams, specifically list the need for both lawn and pest control, as well as for landscape maintenance, to avoid disease spread and to maintain public health and sanitation.
· Safety, sanitation, structural integrity, security, and essential operations are not just about pest control and lawn care service. The other major factor in dealing with these issues is lawn and landscape maintenance. Uncut grass, overgrown shrubs, and trees lead directly to a drastic increase in disease carrying rodent populations like rats and mice. These rodents are the main carriers of disease causing fleas, ticks, and mites. Unmaintained properties trap sticks, garbage, and other safety hazards. They also hide pets and children from passing traffic leading to accidents and death. Unmaintained properties make homes easy targets for thieves who are able to hide amongst the overgrowth easily. Leaves and debris that harbor and cause an explosion in disease carrying insect populations also promote the growth of mold and bacteria in and around the home that lead to severe allergies, asthma, lung disease, and other extreme health conditions. These facts are common knowledge and common sense. Almost every city has standing laws on the books regarding sanitation, security, and the health risks involved with unmaintained properties.
· As it relates directly to the Covid-19 virus: Covid-19 is a respiratory virus that in some cases causes pneumonia and in a few of those cases, even death. People with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions are especially susceptible to the worst symptoms and outcomes. Therefore, it is vital that we do everything we can to maintain our properties and communities so that hazardous allergy causing weeds, mold, and bacteria are controlled. These are essential preventive steps, not luxuries.
· On average one lawn care technician services 150 clients per week and one landscaper services 75 clients per week. Employing those two service professionals who stop at gas stations only twice per week, have almost no direct public contact, nor require contact with other employees while working, keeps 225 people from having to go to the gas station and the store to complete these same tasks weekly. This also ensures that our seniors and people who cannot do this work are cared for and remain safe. Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers rely on our services so that they can devote more
of their time to caring for their patients. Expecting them to work 12-36 hour shifts caring for the sick, ill, and vulnerable, and then to have to come home to work on their property is unimaginably irresponsible. Whitmers’ order accomplishes the very opposite of what all other government agencies are trying to prevent and puts everyone at an increased risk.
· Unfortunately, during the interview directly after her executive order press conference on April 8th, Governor Whitmer went even farther down this disastrous path with her extremely classist, uninformed, and degrading statement regarding landscapers and construction workers. When asked about why our industry was not able to work, she stated that low income people should not be out touching the gas pumps and spreading the disease. First, the average landscape worker in Michigan, earns nearly $50,000 per year. Second, and the landscaping industry generates nearly $1Billion annually just in our state. Additionally, the growth, sale, and export of Michigans’ “unessential” shrubs, trees, sod, plants, seeds, and bulbs bring in Tens of Billions of Dollars to our state each year. Third, most of us wear gloves when pumping gas (as should everyone at this point). Finally, as stated before, just two of us doing our jobs keep 225 other people safe and at home weekly.
On a very personal note, my wife has an extreme case of asthma with a history of pneumothorax (collapsed lungs due to asthma related coughing). It is essential for me to apply weed controls on our property to cut down on weed pollen count from weeds like clover and ragweed which lead to severe asthma attacks requiring immediate medical attention. Hers is not an isolated case. I have many clients who are extraordinarily allergic to weeds and weed pollen. They rely on me and my company to maintain their properties so they can remain safe and healthy.
This is the only time of year that preventive measures can be made to stop many of these allergenic weeds from germinating. Once soil temperatures reach 67 degrees (usually around May 1st) preventive controls become ineffective or no longer work because these noxious weeds have already germinated. Post emergent controls are not nearly as effective and cost 2-3 times more. Additionally, post-emergents often require more than one application and are extraordinarily specialized chemicals that cannot even be applied by unlicensed individuals.
I have several clients whose children, or themselves, are so allergic to mosquito bites that they cause anaphylactic shock much like bee stings. For these clients a single mosquito causes hospitalization or can lead to death, not just potentially, but for sure. Missing mosquito, flea & tick control applications at the beginning of spring increases the likelihood of diseases caused by these insects exponentially. Just as not taking cautionary steps last December through most of March directly caused the Covid-19 virus pandemic to sweep our nation and most of the world now. Prevention is always easier, more effective, and less expensive than medicines and
cures administered after illness has begun. This should have been our priority then and needs to be now.
Finally, it is extremely important to note that my company and employees do not perform services that require us to interact directly with the public nor even each other. As per the CDC, our service and our industry is in the lowest risk category of either spreading or contracting any types of diseases, flu’s, etc. I have given my employees the option, despite being essential, to stay at home for as long as they feel necessary. They all recognize the need for their service and that there is no more risk posed to them while working throughout the day alone, than in staying home, and far less risk than going to the grocery store, or even walking down the street. All have opted to continue working so that our clients and their families can remain as safe and healthy as possible.
Customers who have extreme allergies, asthma, and other respiratory diseases (including Covid-19), or health care providers that need us to work so you can concentrate on your patients should call, text, or email us immediately so that we can make your services a priority.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for supporting local business. Please be safe, use common sense, and support those around you who need you.
Scot D. Atyeo Jr.
Owner, Greens Master Lawn and Pest Service
Please feel free to review the other links below and be sure to send correspondence to our representatives and government officials regarding these issues.