Census workers prepare to go door-knocking in pandemic

Census workers prepare to go door-knocking in pandemic
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The Census Bureau is preparing to launch its door-knocking campaign, even as coronavirus cases surge in some parts of the country.

The agency is about to send 500,000 temporary workers into the field to visit households that have not yet filled out the 2020 census. Workers will engage residents directly but must maintain 6 feet of distance and are not permitted to enter any respondent’s domicile.

The Census Bureau is playing catch-up after the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close its 248 field offices in the spring and delay deployment of temporary workers to go door to door. But the resumption of operations comes as several states are setting daily records for new coronavirus cases.

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"This has been a very challenging time as the virus ebbs and flows and increases in certain areas of the country," Al Fontenot, associate director for decennial census programs at the bureau, told reporters on a press call Wednesday.

The agency says 61.9 percent of Americans have self-responded to the census. Officials are hoping that response rate will climb to 65 percent by the end of the self-reporting period, which has been bumped back from the initial July 31 deadline to Oct. 31 because of the pandemic.

The final 2010 mail-in self-response participation rate was 74 percent.

Response rates have varied by state during the COVID-19 outbreak. Minnesota leads with 71.5 percent while Alaska is at 41.8 percent. Michigan and Washington have already exceeded their 2010 self-response rates, but states such as Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana are lagging.

The Census Bureau plans to have temporary workers start knocking on doors Aug. 11 and continue until Oct. 31. Before the coronavirus, the plan was to have census takers in the field May 13 through July 31.

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The bureau recently acquired more than 40 million items of personal protective equipment and mandated all workers wear a face mask. Workers will be provided with washable, reusable masks, pairs of gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

However, the agency is not running a testing program for employees. Any employee who is presumed to have the virus or has tested positive for it will be prohibited from working for 14 days.

The bureau said it will take into consideration local orders to determine if it is safe to conduct in-person activities.

In the meantime, the agency will ramp up advertising and social media campaigns in states with low response rates to get those numbers up in hopes of reducing the amount of in-person interactions.

After shuttering all field offices on March 18, the Census Bureau began reopening on May 4, with all area offices opened by June 12. The delays pushed census timelines back considerably; the Census Bureau is now asking Congress to extend the deadline for delivering the apportionment count to the president to April 30 rather than Dec. 31 and the redistricting count to the states to at the end of next July instead of April 1.

“We are past the window of being able to get those counts by those dates at this point,” Fontenot said.

House Democrats in May introduced a bill that would extend those deadlines. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisCandidates on Biden's VP list were asked what they thought Trump would nickname them as part of process: report Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Election security advocates see strong ally in Harris MORE (D-Calif.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLobbying world Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police MORE (D-Hawaii) introduced a similar legislation last month. Neither measure has advanced.