Wednesday, July 15, 2020
July 15, 2020

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Coronavirus throws census a curveball

Push for online self-responding expands as field work halts

By , Columbian staff writer

A push from the U.S. Census Bureau encouraging people to self-respond to the decennial questionnaire has grown more urgent as COVID-19 throws on-the-ground efforts to gather information on communities into limbo.

In response to the viral outbreak, the bureau has suspended field operations in impacted areas until at least April 1, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced.

Door-knocking to reach households who don’t self-respond, originally set to begin May 1, has been pushed back until at least late May. And the back end of the window for people to answer the census questionnaire in any format has also been postponed, from July 31 to Aug. 14.

Those dates may be pushed back further as the coronavirus continues to spread, throwing a wrench in just about every facet of the economy and daily life. That’s especially true in Washington, where the virus hit first in the U.S. and hit hard — as of Monday, the disease had killed at least 110 people.

“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,” Dillingham said in a press release.

Households in Western Washington started receiving mailed invitations to respond to the census on March 12. According to Toby Nelson, regional spokesperson for the bureau, already 20 million American households had responded to the census as of Sunday evening.

In Washington, 19.3 percent of households have already self-responded. Narrowed to Clark County, that figure is at 19.6 percent, Nelson said. In Vancouver, 20.1 percent of households have submitted their census.

The campaign to get people to self-respond had already been underway for months, with the bureau touting the option to respond online. The 2020 census is the first time that an online-response option has ever been made available.

But with knocking on doors and interviewing people in person made potentially dangerous by the viral outbreak, self-responding is a more vital piece of the puzzle than ever.

“Prompt self-response limits the need for such in-person contacts,” Nelson wrote in an email.

To self-respond to the census, you have three options:

Visit and click on the green button that says “respond”;

Call 844-330-2020 for English or 844-468-2020 for Spanish (the numbers associated with all other languages can also be found at and answer the questionnaire by phone, or;

Wait until April 8, when the first paper questionnaires will start to arrive in mailboxes. Fill it out and send it back using the enclosed envelope. All paper census questionnaires will be sent to processing centers in either Jeffersonville, Ind. or Phoenix, Ariz.

What about applicants?

In February, Nelson reported that the bureau would need to employ approximately 1,400 enumerators in Southwest Washington in order to reach every household when door-knocking begins in earnest.

He did not respond to an inquiry Tuesday as to whether COVID-19 had ultimately changed that number.

However, the timeline across Washington for people who applied to work for the U.S. census has been impacted by the virus, and by the suspension of field operations on March 18.

Applicants who have already been offered a job still have one, according to the census website. All fingerprinting appointments have been suspended through at least April 1.

“This is a temporary suspension and we ask that you bear with us as we work to keep you and the general public safe and healthy, the census website reads.

Details on how the bureau will safely train its enumerators are also still up in the air.

“In some cases, training will be delayed in order to maintain public safety. Training will include social distancing measures,” the bureau’s website states.

People who have already applied to work for the census but have not yet heard back can check the status of their application at

They can also call the regional census bureau office, located in Olympia, directly at 360-999-4003.