The U.S. Census Bureau is adjusting its plan for counting some residents amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The biggest changes come in the way the bureau counts people living in group quarters: college dorms, nursing homes, prisons, and the like.
In particular, college students who have been asked to not return to campus from spring break are reminded to use their college address when responding to the census.
“Even if they are home on census day, April 1, they should be counted, according to the residence criteria, which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time,” read a statement from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding modifications the agency is making to the census count.
For individuals living in dorms, nursing homes, prisons, and other institutional living facilities, the bureau is asking administrators to consider an electronic response or a drop-off and pick-up paper form system to minimize in-person contact with census bureau staff.
The census bureau is also delaying some in-person assistance and enumerations operations. It has moved the start date for census workers to help people fill out the questionnaire at large public gatherings or events from March 30 to April 13. It is also delaying the start date of in-person enumeration of off-campus households in college towns from April 9 to April 30.
While the census bureau had initially targeted July 31, 2020, as the completion date for the count, “that date can and will be adjusted, if necessary, as the situation evolves in order to achieve a complete and accurate count,” according to the census news release.
In conjunction with these changes, the bureau is mainly emphasizing that, for most households in the United States, the online and phone self-response methods are the easiest and safest ways to fill out the questionnaire amid the health pandemic.
On Sunday, NPR reported that at least one census bureau employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is “following guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health,” according to bureau spokesman Michael Cook, quoted in the NPR story.
The census worker was hired as a supervisor and was not in direct contact with the public. The bureau is adapting its operations to train and deploy door-knockers in the coming weeks.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.