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Novel coronavirus impacts 2020 census

The coronavirus outbreak has certainly affected the 2020 census, at least when it comes to outreach.

Nearly a week after the “census day” April 1, barely half of the state has completed the census questionnaire. In Garfield County, 44.7 percent of addresses have responded, the vast majority using the online census form.

But many ski resort towns and areas with early outbreaks of COVID-19 appear far behind in filling out census forms.

Snowmass Village had an 8 percent response rate April 5, and Aspen had a 22 percent response.

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The western part of the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County had far better responses. Glenwood Springs and Rifle both had around 43 percent response, New Castle and Carbondale were above 50 percent, and Silt was at 45 percent by April 5.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy could be due to the nature of resort towns, and how the response rates are calculated.

The census response rates are based on the number of residential units, but if the unit isn’t the primary residence for anyone, the response for that dwelling would be zero. Areas with more second-homes will therefore have a lower response rate.

For example, the 2010 census found that 41 percent of Aspens’ 5,929 units were not primary residences.

There is still a possibility that the pandemic is affecting self-responses, according to Rachel Brenneman of the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee.

“I do think that the pandemic, the fear and the anxiety, and the transition to working from home, figuring out childcare, and what this new normal looks like, is definitely turning people’s focus from their civic duties,” Brenneman said.

Many of the local census committee’s outreach efforts had to be scuttled due to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak “happened right as we were starting to kick off tons of community events and outreach efforts in person,” Brenneman said.

For instance, the census was supposed to send out staff members with packets reminding people to take the census, and that has been pushed back considerably.

The in-person events were a large part of outreach to Spanish-speaking populations, and everything has now had to go online.

“That is the one area that we feel hit the hardest in terms of outreach, because many of our tactics were one-on-one, face to face small group community meetings,” Brenneman said.

Outreach to elder care facilities also had to shift to digital. The complete count committee had planned on doing a nursing home tour with a singer-songwriter, but with access restricted due to the virus, that tour will be an online video. 

 “It’s been an interesting process of reworking and pivoting to all-digital,” Brenneman said.

Another unique outreach: with schools closed, Roaring Fork School District and Garfield Re-16 are organizing meal delivery to students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The census committee will send out coloring books and crayons, with information about the census, with those meals next week.

There is a chance that during the summer, the committee could do one last outreach with in-person events.

The deadline for self-response collection is August 14, two weeks later than the original deadline.

“We are hoping to do what we’ve been calling internally an, ‘it’s not too late’ campaign starting in July,” Brenneman said.

A lot of the timing will depend on guidance from state, federal and local health officials.

Nationwide, the Census Bureau has delayed following up with nonresponsive households by about two weeks. The door-knocking part of the census was supposed to begin May 13, but that’s been pushed to May 28.

This is the first time the census could be filled out online, so organizers are still hopeful to get a better self-response rate than a decade ago.

In Garfield County, the self-response for the 2010 census was 60 percent.

“Our goal was to exceed the response rates from last census, but at this point, with everything else that’s happening in the world, we are not trying to hold ourselves to a certain percentage at this point in the game,” Brenneman said.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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