Census Is Still Important In the Face of Coronavirus

Invitations and instructions for the 2020 census have been mailed to homes across the country. All residents are encouraged to respond by filling out a census form by mail, online or by phone.

However, Census officials acknowledged this week that the urgency caused by the COVID-19 virus can overshadow the need for residents to participate in the count, and announced the establishment of a task force to monitor the situation.

Called the COVID-19 Internal Task Force, its job will be to update its operations plan, and follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities to insure that the virus outbreak doesn’t disrupt the crucial count.

Acknowledging the national emergency, the Census bureau said in a written statement its preparation and contingency plan focused on the health and safety of its staff and the public, while fulfilling its “constitutional obligation to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the President of the United States on schedule.”

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, census kiosks were set up in libraries, parks and in other public spaces but now many of those venues are closed and are no longer accessible.

Park officials, however, said that the census kiosks in some park areas could still be used as long as large groups of people didn’t congregate around them at one time.

Census officials and community activists held press briefings and teleconferences this week to acknowledge the great concern of the coronavirus but still encouraged everyone’s participation. They emphasized that important decisions including funding is based on census data and that information “will affect your family and community for the next 10 years.”

The effort to get an accurate census count has always been challenging, especially considering the reluctance by immigrants and those who don’t have permanent residences including LA’s massive homeless population.

During a teleconference held by Ethnic Media Services, it was noted that community organizations involved in the census are changing the way they would normally conduct outreach because of the pandemic.

“Several grassroots organizations are moving to phone banks and text banks because the ‘table’ opportunities are very restrictive right now and we want to exercise caution,” said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “We are also leaving drop-off literature in supermarkets, community centers, and clinics.”

Asian Americans, Latino and other communities with large immigrant households can often feel mistrustful of the government and need to be assured that Census data is only collected for statistical information. Those working on census outreach are also hearing new fears about being counted including concern about data privacy and cybersecurity.

“The bureau and its employees are not allowed to share the data with any other government agency or officials for any reason,” Yang said.

The central work by those outreaching is to reassure people that the information they provide to the census is “safe and secure” and vital to the future.

Lizette Escobedo, census director for the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials, stressed along with other activists in diverse communities that there would be no citizenship question listed.

“NALEO has trained 3500 Census Ambassadors to assist the community in 15 states in filling out the Census and has launched two national campaigns. ‘Hágase contar and Hazme contar’ focused on the larger Latino community and children younger than four, which experienced a large undercount in the 2010 Census,” Escobedo said.

Households in areas less likely to respond online — where there might be a digital divide or other issues — were sent a paper questionnaire in the first mailing.

Households that have not responded online or by phone are scheduled to receive a paper questionnaire between April 8 and 16. The paper questionnaire includes a prepaid postage envelope, so it can be returned by mail.

Census takers plan to conduct a “non-response follow-up operation” in some communities beginning as early as April 9, until May 13. However, households can still respond on their own during that time. Census responses can be done online or by phone through July 31.

For people who want to respond to the Census online or for more information about the census go to: https://www.census.gov.