Diem Boyd was sitting outside a restaurant in New York's fashionable Greenwich Village in September, when a family of rats scurried across her feet.
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"Within seconds everybody jumped up," she says."We lost our appetite."
Everyone in New York has a similar story to tell, she explains. "We have a complete and utter rat explosion."
"You see them when you come out at night," agrees Deborah Gonzalez, who, like Diem, lives in Manhattan's Lower East Side. "When you walk on this block you see them running back and forth."
It is difficult to gauge precise numbers, but calls to New York City's complaints hotline mentioning rodents have jumped this year, 15% up on pre-pandemic levels.
"Obviously New York has always had rats," says Marcell Rocha, who also lives in the neighbourhood, but now "they are bigger and bolder, they jump at you. They're gymnastic, doing backflips".
So, what's changed?
Diem, Deborah and Marcell put the blame for this new plague, squarely at the door of the al fresco dining that has spread through the city during the pandemic, encouraging many more people to eat at outdoor tables.
Hundreds of New York's streets are now lined - often on both sides - with ad hoc shelters, completely altering the urban landscape. To give you an idea of the scale - there are more than 11,000 new outdoor eating spots.
Some of these new venues are little more than a frame and a scattering of chairs, others are sturdy structures with floors, fairy-lights, flower pots and electric heaters.