2020 Census counting officially began on January 21 with early data collection in remote Alaska and the first wave of mailings went out in early March. By law, the Census Bureau is required to deliver the count used for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives by December 31, 2020. That means that no matter what, the count must go on. The Bureau is now adjusting to the challenges of counting all Americans in the right place during the coronavirus pandemic.
In mid-March, the Census Bureau announced that it would delay the start of its field operation—the hiring and training of workers to go to households—until April 1. Here are the ways the Bureau is changing its 2020 operations that are most impactful to North Carolina:
- Self-response phase extended two weeks: The first phase of the census in which households are encouraged to respond on their own now extends from March 12 to August 14, a two-week extension from the original end date of July 31.
- Update Leave operation delayed to May 1: This operation targets households where residents are unlikely to receive mail at their homes (about 5% of households), such as in areas that have recently been impacted by natural disasters. This had initially been scheduled to begin on March 15 with the first phase of self-response mailings. In North Carolina, this primarily impacts areas in the western, Sandhills, and eastern regions of the state.
- Operations to count homeless or transitory populations delayed. The Bureau has three separate operations that target homeless or transitory populations: working with service providers, such as soup kitchens and shelters; sending census takers to campgrounds, hotels, marinas, and RV parks; and counting homeless people outdoors. Each of these operations has been delayed to late April/early May.
- Counting college students: Universities have shifted to remote instruction but students who lived on- and off-campus should still be counted where they live during the school year—even if they are currently living elsewhere due to COVID-19. Read our detailed blog on where college students should be counted.
- Mobile Questionnaire Assistance postponed: The Bureau’s plans to have staff available at places like grocery stores has been delayed until April 14—and may be further postponed.
- Nonresponse Follow-Up postponed two weeks: During this phase, census workers go door-to-door to households that have not yet responded. This operation was originally planned for May 13 to July 31 and is now scheduled for May 28 to August 14.
Additional changes include suspension and delay of Update Enumerate operations (impacts northern Maine and remote Alaska) and changes to group quarters procedures. This memo from the Congressional Research Service provides full details on the impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Census fieldwork.