The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across the United States, and the 2020 Census is no exception.
Not only have college students have been displaced from their residential addresses by school closures, but census operations themselves have been impacted.
Albert Fontenot Jr., assistant director for Decennial Census Programs, said in a news teleconference Friday that they’re already adjusting some of their operations to help protect the public and employees from the novel coronavirus pandemic, which includes suspending many field operations until April 1.
“We’re also actively working with colleges and universities to make sure students that have been temporarily sent home or away from their normal campus living situation know how to be counted,” Fontenot said.
Students who may be temporarily at home on April 1 should still be counted at their school for the census, the Census Bureau clarified in a press release on March 15.
Emily Kelley, Partnership Coordinator with the Census Bureau, explained why college students are counted based on where they go to school.
“It’s because they’re here in Manhattan or the surrounding area, or wherever it is they’re going to school, for the majority of the year,” Kelley said. “That’s where they’re using services, they drive on the roads, they use healthcare facilities here, and many of those services are funded based off of the decennial census count.”
One concern, Kelley said, is that parents of college students will count them on their form.
“College students are supposed to be counted where they live when they’re at school, not back at home,” Kelley said.
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As of early Friday morning, Fontenot said, over 18.6 million people have already responded to the 2020 census.
“By today, every mailbox in the country should have received an invitation to participate in the census,” Fontenot said. “We encourage everyone to keep looking for those mailings and make sure you have your census invitation.”
Kelley said for students who live off campus and may still be in the Manhattan area to remember that the census invitation to respond packet is for the household, not an individual person in the household.
“Say you live here in Manhattan and you have a roommate, if you’re still in the house and you receive your census invitation to respond with that unique ID, you can communicate with your roommate and respond on behalf of your residential address,” Kelley said. “Fill out the census together if you can, but we are able to process it also if multiple people fill out the complete census questionnaire and list the same address.”
For those with internet access, there is another option. This year, for the first time, the bureau is encouraging people to complete the census online.
“This is the first decennial census where we are encouraging everybody to respond to the census online, by phone or by paper if they’re more comfortable with that,” Kelley said.
Kelley said the most important thing to know is that the Census Bureau wants to get the decennial census count right.
“It’s important to all of us, because we live in these communities and understand that an accurate count is of vital importance, for the vitality of our communities, for the political representation of our communities and even things like making sure hospitals have the correct funding,” Kelley said.