Census Bureau Adjusting Operations in Response to Coronavirus
By U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Communication
Posted on March 16, 2020, March 16, 2020

Census worker rings doorbell 

The U.S. Census Bureau continues to carefully monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities. As a result, the Bureau is adjusting some operations as outlined below with two key principles in mind: protecting the health and safety staff and the public and fulfilling the statutory requirement to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the President on schedule.

As of today, over 5 million people have responded online to the 2020 Census. Currently, the planned completion date for data collection for the 2020 Census is July 31, 2020, however, that date can and will be adjusted if necessary as the situation evolves in order to achieve a complete and accurate count.

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.

The Bureau is also adjusting operations to make sure college students are counted.

College students living in on-campus housing are counted through their university as part of the Group Quarters Operation, which counts all students living in university-owned housing. In addition to college dormitories, the Group Quarters Operation also includes places like nursing homes, group homes, halfway houses and prisons.

During the recent 2020 Census Group Quarters Advance Contact operation, Census workers contacted college/university student housing administrators to get their input on the enumeration methods that will allow students to participate in the 2020 Census.

The majority, about 47 percent, have chosen the eResponse methodology and about 7 percent chose paper listings, both of which provide the Census Bureau directory information (electronically or via paper records) about each student. 

About 35 percent, however, chose drop-off/pick-up which allows students to self-respond using an Individual Census Questionnaire (or ICQ). Workers are contacting those schools to ask whether they would like to change that preference in light of the emerging situation.

In general, students in colleges and universities temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus will still be counted as part of this process. Even if they are home on census day, April 1, they should be counted according to the residence criteria which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. The Bureau is asking schools to contact their students and remind them to respond.

Per the Census Bureau’s residence criteria, in most cases students living away from home at school should be counted at school, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Census is designed to offer multiple ways to respond. Group housing administrators are encouraged to choose a way to count their residents that requires less in-person contact.

For the “group quarters” operation, which counts people in nursing homes, college dorms, prisons and other institutional living facilities, there are a myriad of ways to respond, such as via eResponse, paper listing or self-enumeration by the facility.

All group quarters administrators that have requested an in-person visit are being asked to consider an eResponse. A Census worker will also offer to drop off and later pick up paper forms to minimize in-person contact. 

The Bureau is also working with service providers at emergency and transitional shelters, soup kitchens and regularly-scheduled mobile food vans to adapt plans to count the populations they serve.

The plan has been to interview each person served a meal or staying at the facility at a date and time the service providers choose between March 30 and April 1.

Census workers are now contacting the service providers to determine whether they will be open between March 30 and April 1 and whether they would be able to provide a paper listing of census response data for each person served or staying at the facility instead.

The Bureau still plans to offer assistance with responding to the 2020 Census at events and locations where people naturally gather as part of the Mobile Questionnaire Assistance program.
This operation has now been delayed until April 13.

The Census Bureau is also delaying its early nonresponse followup operation. In this operation, census takers begin following up with households that haven’t responded yet around some colleges and universities. By starting early, workers can count households in areas with off-campus housing before the end of the spring semester when students may leave for another residence. This effort has now been delayed from April 9 to April 23.

The Census Bureau is also making changes to its paid media campaign, earned media efforts, and partnership outreach efforts to adapt to changing conditions while continuing to promote self-response. The key message right now for anyone with questions about how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 Census: 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.

Click here to learn more about the 2020 Census.

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