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Counting during coronavirus: Census committee adapts to closures

The 2020 census is still going to happen despite the coronavirus outbreak, but many of the local outreach efforts are canceling or changing.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and ensuing bans on large events makes it even more difficult to reach hard-to-count populations.

The Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee has canceled many events designed to answer questions and encourage Spanish-speakers to participate in the census, so they are increasing online outreach.

“We know that social and digital is the only way we can really communicate with people at the moment,” Rachel Brenneman of the Complete Count Committee said on an organizing call Wednesday.

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“We’re really ramping up our digital campaign, in addition to all of the regular media outreach campaign, because so many events have been canceled. We had planned to do a number of small group outreach events in the Latinx population and community, and they just aren’t happening,” Brenneman said.

The census bureau hasn’t changed plans to send door knockers to the homes of people who don’t respond by May, and people can still apply for a position as a door-to-door census taker.

The importance of an accurate census has been stressed by leaders throughout the Western Slope.

Colorado’s population has expanded since the last census in 2010, both on the Front Range and the Western Slope, and an accurate count is essential to receive all the money for which a region is eligible.

The census also determines the number of electoral college votes for the state and how many representatives in Congress will be allocated to Colorado.

COVID-19 has made hard-to-reach populations even harder to count.

For example, with the ski slopes closing for the season and decline in tourism revenue, seasonal workers who are eligible to be counted because they spend most of their time in the Roaring Fork Valley may have already left.

“They don’t have to physically be there to do that, they just need to go online to provide us that address information,” said Brian Meinhart with the U.S. Census Bureau.

“While it may be a little more difficult to get that information to them, versus if they were still here, there should still be ways to work with some of the organizations and businesses, like SkiCo, to get that information out to them,” Meinhart said.

The Complete Count Committee is also pushing back the start of many door-to-door outreach efforts to remind people of the census.

“The present plan is to wait for three or four weeks before we do a round of canvasing, and then we’ll do a second round in early-to-mid-June,” said Micheal Ireland, part of the Complete Count Committee.

“Right now, I don’t want to send people to the door even with gloves on, cause it could freak people out,” Ireland said.

The committee is also advising group homes, like residence halls and nursing homes in particular that are responsible for counting the people who live there, to do as much online response as possible.

Some nursing homes had scheduled a census taker to come in and collect responses, but that would be better done online, according to Meinhart.

“We don’t want any risk of exposure to some of the higher-risk population,” Meinhart said.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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