Census Suspends 2020 Count’s Field Operations Until April Due To COVID-19

UNITED STATES - MARCH 13: Residents of the Unired States began receiving their 2020 U.S. Census letters in the mail this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Census Bureau announced Wednesday that it was suspending until April 1 the field operations involved in the 2020 decennial census, citing the need “protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone going through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions.”

The announcement is the biggest move yet the Bureau has had to take to adapt its 2020 count plans to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the weekend, the Bureau announced that it was tweaking its programs geared at colleges, emergency shelters and group homes.

That and Wednesday’s announcement emphasized the ability of Americans to respond online, in the mail or over the phone.

According to Wednesday’s statement from Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, 11 million Americans have responded already.

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Even before the outbreak, questions were raised about the Bureau’s efforts to reach hard-to-count-populations that may be unlikely or unable to use those methods to participate in the count. The current health crisis has only exacerbated those concerns, and some local officials — particularly in New York, which has been both hit hard by the virus and is home to traditionally hard-to-count communities — have suggested that that the deadline for complete the 2020 counting operation should be extended.

In a statement Saturday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that for now the Bureau was sticking to its July 31 completion deadline, but that the deadline “can and will be adjusted if necessary as the situation dictates in order to achieve a complete and accurate count.”

Dillingham’s statement didn’t explicitly reference that possibility of a deadline extension. But it noted the Bureau’s plans to begin sending enumerators door to door to seek the partipcation of people who had not by then responded to the survey.

“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,” he said.

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