Census, Coronavirus, Local

Census, Community Organizations Shift Gears Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic

The 2020 census is off and running for much of America now.
The 2020 census is off and running for much of America now.
Credit U.S. Census via AP
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Community organizations in Metro Atlanta were gearing up for in-person “get out the count” initiatives to make sure people fill out the 2020 census. But those gatherings, such as festivals and town halls, have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of these events targeted populations that have been traditionally undercounted by the Census Bureau. That includes Black Americans, immigrants and non-English speakers.

The decennial census is mandated by the Constitution and determines how many seats a state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also determines voting districts as well as how, at least, billions of dollars in federal money is spent every year. 

Rebecca DeHart heads the advocacy organization Fair Count. It launched an ‘I Count’ bus tour earlier this month. Those plans are suspended. DeHart said now is a good opportunity to speak to an online audience that’s looking for updates on the pandemic.

“We can really utilize this sort of new captive audience that’s checking Twitter every day, that’s checking the news … and making sure we’re talking about the census as well,” she said.

The 2020 census is the first that will be mostly conducted online. Mailers to encourage residents to fill out the questionnaire started arriving in mailboxes across the country on March 12. According to the Census Bureau, 6.5 million households have responded online so far as of this report.

The U.S. Census Bureau canceled a kickoff celebration in Atlanta, scheduled for this week, because of coronavirus. The Bureau is also changing the way the census will be conducted over the next few months.

The Bureau said self-responding is the safest way to fill out forms and reduces the chance of a census worker knocking on your door.

Michael Cook, Chief Information Officer with the Census Bureau, said some training for census workers have been moved online. He also said workers in the field should avoid ringing doorbells, if possible.

“As we’re dealing with the current situation and carefully monitoring it we want to ensure the safety of not only our staff that are working in communities across the country but also the public,” he said.

According to NPR, a census worker recently tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined.

Cook also said the 2020 count for those experiencing homelessness, currently planned for the end of this month, may be delayed.