Several of you have recently contacted me with questions about the Census Bureau’s response to COVID-19, so I thought it would be easier just to provide everyone with the latest feedback.
We will be following the guidance of federal, state, and local health authorities and have established the US Census Bureau COVID-19 Internal Task Force to continuously monitor the situation and update our Pandemic Addendum to the Census Bureau Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan.
For those of you who already have planned events, such as Mobile Questionnaire Assistance, or would like to do so, I would suggest you stay abreast of federal, state, and local health officials’ guidance and take any appropriate steps as you see fit.
Our planning and guidance on this issue will center on the health and safety of the American public and Census Bureau staff while still ensuring that we fulfill our Constitutional mandate to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place, and on schedule.
To that end, we emphasize that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone, or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker.
From March 12 through March 20, households will receive their first of many invitations to participate in the 2020 Census.
We are encouraging everyone to respond online as soon as they receive their invitation with the provided instructions to go online. Instructions will include the web address for the online questionnaire in English as well as instructions for where to respond online in the 12 additional languages—ensuring over 99% of U.S. households can respond online in their preferred language.
The invitation will also include phone numbers for English and the 12 additional languages—ensuring over 99% of U.S. households can respond over the phone in their preferred language. Telephone assistance is available seven days a week from 7:00am to 2:00am EDT (9:00am to 4:00am MST) for those who prefer to respond by phone.
Some households—in areas less likely to respond online—will receive a paper questionnaire in the first mailing, but all households that have not responded online or by phone will receive a paper questionnaire on or between April 8 and April 16. The paper questionnaire includes a pre-paid postage envelope to return by mail.
Census takers plan to conduct the non-response follow-up operation, which begins in a handful of communities as early as April 9 (areas near universities/colleges), and starts across the country on May 13. However, households can still respond on their own during this phase (online and phone response is available through July 31).
The Census Bureau will closely follow guidance from public health authorities when conducting this operation, as we do when conducting all field operations.
If we need to delay or discontinue nonresponse follow-up visits in a particular community, we will adapt our operation to ensure we get a complete and accurate count.
Currently, fieldwork for some of our non-Decennial surveys is successfully being conducted by phone where we are seeing an outbreak.
Similarly, partnership specialists are working with local partners and conducting meetings that may have been in person by phone and teleconference (keep this in mind as a good option).
We designed our 2020 operations precisely so we could offer multiple ways to respond. In so doing, we are able to make necessary adaptations at the local level for special operations as well. For instance, “group quarters,” the operation which counts people in nursing homes, college dorms, prisons, and other institutional living facilities, includes a myriad of ways to respond, such as via eResponse, paper listing, or self-enumeration by the facility. The same is true for “service-based enumeration” which counts persons experiencing homelessness at the site where they receive services. The site administrators have multiple options for response.
In short, where a community, facility, or service organization makes a change that would affect any field operation, we will adapt to make sure we are getting the same population counted another way.
We will work to share information about any change in operations with local authorities, community partners, and the media. We will also work with community partners to continue to encourage self-response through the end of the non-response follow-up phase. We also have significant contingency budget to address costs of operational changes. As needed, we will hire additional workers, manage operations out of different offices, or mail additional reminders or questionnaires to areas affected by an outbreak. We will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate steps in consultation with public health authorities.
Brian J. Meinhart, Senior Partnership Specialist
US Census Bureau