The U.S. Census Bureau is pushing ahead with its once-in-a-decade count, despite the logistical difficulties presented by the coronavirus outbreak.
The 2020 count was just getting started when COVID-19 hit America's shores. Now the federal agency plans to continue while preparing a contingency plan if the situation changes.
"We're listening to national and local public health authorities to ensure that as we conduct the census we're not harming or putting into danger the public and/or our staff, knowing that we have to get an accurate and complete count by December 31, 2020," Michael Cook, chief of the public information office at the U.S. Census Bureau, told Cheddar.
Crucially, the data is used to apportion congressional districts, so any delay could cause future hold-ups in the U.S. electoral process.
In the meantime, individuals and families can respond online, reach out to a call center with the option of 13 different languages, or mail in a questionnaire.
Ten million households have already responded this year, according to Cook.
"It's never been easier to respond to the census on your own," he said.
Indeed, this year is set to be the largest Census ever and the most reliant on collecting answers via the internet, phone, or mail. As a result of this change in approach and concerns over the virus, the agency has hired fewer than half of the 1.2 million temporary workers it hired in 2010.
The agency usually conducts in-person follow-ups to people who don't answer, but Cook said that response is being evaluated based on real-time information on the outbreak. At a minimum, census takers have delayed hitting streets from April 7 to April 23.
There is a $2 billion contingency plan in place that would allow the Bureau to hire more people, open new offices or move existing ones, and send extra reminders to areas hit hard by the virus.
A physical address is the primary way that the Bureau tracks households. If the economic shutdown that has followed in the wake of the outbreak leads to evictions for renters, as some cities have anticipated, Cook recommends calling in if at all possible.
These call centers will remain staffed through the outbreak, Cook said.