2020 Census kicks off, feeling COVID-19 effects

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines for weeks and is affecting almost every part of daily life. One government agency feeling those effects is the United States Census Bureau.

The census started less than a week ago and already more than eleven million households have responded. Some steps are being taken, however, to limit the possibility of spreading the coronavirus.

The bureau announced Wednesday that all field operations would be suspended until April 1.

“During this pause in field operations, the Census Bureau will continue to evaluate all 2020 Census operations,” the bureau’s statement read. “Should any additional adjustments need to be made, the Census Bureau will communicate these changes broadly and promptly.”  

SEE ALSO: US Census Bureau suspends field operations on virus concerns

The statement also read: “The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and can also respond by phone or mail.”

News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with local officials about what effects COVID-19 might have on the 2020 Census.

“People could take it at home and most people are home right now,” said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock. “We just need to encourage them to get online if they have that capability and do it and like I said I’ve done mine took less than 10 minutes to do and very easy, very straightforward, it was only nine questions on it.” 

The higher the population of a local district, Brock explained, the more representation that area gets and if it declines, then that area gets less federal funding.

“[The census] is the basis for distribution of federal dollars for schools, for transportation, for transit, roads, so it has a lot to do with your share of the taxes you pay that go to Washington, we’re trying to get it back, and so it’s based on population, so it is a huge factor in funds, distribution from the federal level,” Brock said. “Ten years ago during the census, we had about an 83 percent participation rate and that still left a lot of dollars on the table of people who did not get counted and each person in federal dollars is worth about $1,100, so we could’ve had upwards to 8,000 – 10,000 people who didn’t get counted in the 2010 census, that well over $100 million of loss, so that’s why it’s so important to try to get people to take it.”

One effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having worldwide is the phenomenon of social distancing.

Educational institutions like East Tennessee State University have substituted traditional learning for online classrooms. This, Brock told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais, could prove problematic for Johnson City’s census numbers.

“One of the impacts it has on us locally is that all of our ETSU students are gone now, and so, the census really count people where they live and so if they lived on campus or in the community here, I mean their home is here for nine months of the year, maybe even longer, so those folks are gone and so that’s just one groove that we’ve been thinking about that’s like ‘my goodness, there all of our students are gone,'” Brock explained. “The really only impact I think that the virus thing has is that our ETSU students are not who normally would be counted here, so… it would really be nice if they extend it to take into consideration, but that’s gonna apply to any community that has a university, not just Johnson City.”

The bureau officially announced some adjustments to the census data collection Sunday, particularly mentioning college students.

SEE ALSO: ETSU to move to online courses March 23

College students living in on-campus housing are counted through their university as part of our Group Quarters Operation, the statement explained, adding that generally, students in higher education institutions temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus are still 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 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). We are contacting those schools to ask whether they would like to change that preference in light of the emerging situation.” 

U.S. Census Bureau

SEE ALSO: Northeast State to transition to online classes for remainder of semester

Social distancing is still encouraged by health experts, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau.

“In late May, census takers around the nation will begin visiting households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census to help complete the count. As we continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, we will adjust census taker and survey operations as necessary in order to follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities.”

U.S. Census Bureau

Tennessee Rep. John Holsclaw Wednesday encouraged all Americans to take the census as soon as they can online, via phone or mail, so as to limit human-to-human contact.

“Everybody is scared right now because of the unknowns, you know,” He said. “If you follow basically what they say as far as, you know, sanitizer, wash your hands and I’m sure people will be scared to even open the door to some people especially the elderly people because that’s the ones it affects the most, you could possibly even do it through the door, you could do it in a safe manner.”

Holsclaw said to limit travel as much as possible as well.

“The big problem that we have is like even me coming to Nashville, well Nashville is a major hub where everybody comes from different states and areas so, you know, I’m more exposed than the average person and then when I go back home, not even knowing that I’m sick, I can spread it to my family and those kind of things, so you just got to be super cautious and super smart,” he said. “Stay at home and let’s get this major spike down to a molehill if you will and let’s move through it and continue to see the progress made and let’s go forward with everyday living.”

To learn more about the 2020 Census or to complete it online, click here.

For more coverage on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, click here.

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