DENVER (CBS4) - After COVID-19 temporarily halted field operations for the 2020 U.S. Census, workers headed back out into neighborhoods this week. Now, because of new safety precautions, the way they conduct this crucial, decennial operation will look a bit different than in the past.
"Given the environment we're in, how do we reach people who haven't answered the census, and do it a manner that is safe for employees and the people living in that household," said Jerome Garza, Assistant Regional Census Manager.
In March, the answer to that question was to temporarily put a stop to field operations, just four days after they began. In the interim, the bureau put an emphasis on encouraging people to respond online or by phone.
This week, workers in Colorado began delivering questionnaires again, starting with P.O. boxes and rural addresses. Much like workers in many sectors right now, census employees will operate under a new normal.
"We're no longer knocking on the door. All we're doing is leaving the questionnaire on the front porch, number one. Number two, we are providing all our employees with masks and sanitizer," said Garza.
The U.S. Census Bureau has some ground to make up in Colorado, which ranks 18th in responses so far among U.S. states. While the count in larger cities, such as Denver and Fort Collins, is closer to 60%, it's rural communities that are lagging behind.
"Some of those areas, like the county of Jackson, where only 8.1% of the households have answered, that's because they haven't gotten the questionnaire yet," Garza said.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted once every 10 years. The data helps decide representation in Congress, along with how more than $675 billion in federal funds are distributed back to states and local communities.
In a state like Colorado, where many communities are rapidly growing, an accurate count is critical for future planning.
"It's used to determine where firehouses are placed, where hospitals are built, where clinics are built, where schools are placed," Garza said.
According to Garza, the pandemic has also impacted the typical workforce, which historically includes many people around retirement age.
"Many of them are just telling us, 'We've answered the census, we're telling our friends, but I can't go work for you.' So, we are still hiring in selected areas."
If you are interested in being a census worker, you can look up job postings on the U.S. Census Bureau's jobs website.
The current deadline to respond to the 2020 Census is Oct. 31. You can respond by mail, online at 2020census.gov or by phone 1-844-330-2020.
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