As the census 2020 website goes live, Bureau braces for possible coronavirus impact

Households can still respond online and by phone through July 31. "The Census Bureau will closely follow guidance from public health authorities when ...
As the census 2020 website goes live, Bureau braces for possible coronavirus impact

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COVID-19 could complicate the decennial count — but the new online and phone response availability will help protect census takers, respondents

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ST. CLOUD — The Census Bureau's went live this week, marking the first time in the its 230-year history that the census is available online.

The Bureau also began mailing notices Thursday to the nation's estimated 140 million households. 

But the — which began as a handful of infections in central China and has now become a pandemic — is causing concerns about safety as cases pop up in the United States. 

But the Bureau has a simple message to those with questions about how COVID-19 could affect the 2020 census: "It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail — all without having to meet a census taker."

The Bureau is following the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities — and to "continuously monitor the situation and update our Pandemic Addendum to the Census Bureau Continuity of Operations Plan," states a Wednesday release from the Bureau. 

Even newborns should be counted in the 2020 Census. (Photo: Getty Images)

The U.S. Postal Service will deliver the initial invitations March 12-20, after which reminder letters will be delivered to households that have not responded.

Most households will receive a letter with a unique Census ID and will be invited to respond online or by phone. Some households, generally in rural areas with limited access to the internet, will get a paper questionnaire on the first mailing. 

Paper questionnaires will be mailed April 8-16 to the remaining households that have not responded. 

Census takers plan to conduct follow-up for households that have not responded in mid-May. Households can still respond online and by phone through July 31. 

"The Census Bureau will closely follow guidance from public health authorities when conducting this operation, as we do when conducting all field operations," the release states. "If we need to delay or discontinue nonresponse follow-up visits in a particular community, we will adapt our operation to ensure we get a complete and accurate count." 

The Bureau has a "significant contingency budget" to address costs of operational changes, according to the release. 

"As needed, we will hire workers, manage operations out of different offices or mail additional reminders or questionnaires to area affected by an outbreak," the release states. 

A sample questionnaire shows the questions on the 2020 Census — but people will be able to fill out the form online or by phone, too. (Photo: Census Bureau)

The Constitution mandates everyone on the country be counted every 10 years.

The 2020 census asks how many people are living in the house, apartment or mobile home on April 1 — and those people's name, sex, age, Hispanic origin and race. It also asks how additional people are related to the first person listed, and if the residence is owned or rented.

The census does not ask about citizenship or for personal information such as your social security number, bank or credit card account numbers, or anything on behalf of a political party. 

People can log onto  with the Census ID and fill out the questionnaire — 24 hours a day — on a phone, tablet or computer. If you don't have the Census ID, you can still complete the questionnaire by verifying your address.

Filling out the census is expected to take less than 10 minutes but must be completed in one session.

 is the cities and schools reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-259-3680 or Follow her on Twitter .

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