Census officials, social service organizations and local governments are readjusting outreach methods to ensure people are counted in the 2020 Census after the COVID-19 outbreak forced related events and job fairs to cancel.
Prior to the declaration of a global pandemic, the city of Half Moon Bay, Puente de la Costa Sur, Coastside Hope and other community groups were focusing on educating people about the census. But with the state now imposing restrictions to shelter in place, there has been a disruption to outreach efforts.
“Unfortunately, the shelter-in-place order has hampered our in-person outreach efforts,” said City Management Analyst Victor Gaitan. “We will now be shifting our focus to online outreach methods through our e-newsletter, social media sites and website. We'll also be reaching out to our community partners to make sure they're reaching out to their email lists as well.”
While the city’s main communications this week have been focused on the response to the pandemic, Gaitan said he is hoping to increase census outreach next week.
The city and Puente both were organizing a census kickoff event scheduled for April 1 to rally the communities on the Coastside to fill out this year’s count. The events were canceled.
“While I expect that some people might not complete the census due to everything that's going on, I hope that the opposite is true,” Gaitan said.
Judith Guerrero, executive director of Coastside Hope, said it’s as if every other issue has gone to the back burner. She continues to encourage her clients to fill out the census and is handing out a one-page flyer during a weekly food distrubtion at a local food bank.
“If this situation is going to teach us anything it is that we all need to count ourselves so our community has the resources it needs,” she said.
Guerrero was planning to raise awareness about the census but her events were canceled too. Instead, she’s utilizing social media and newsletters to continue to get the message out.
The easiest way to fill out the census is online, but not everyone has reliable internet. People can also call and complete the forms over the phone, according to Melissa Vergara, community outreach specialist for San Mateo County.
The city and local social service agencies are not the only organizations to change their approach. The U.S. Census Bureau itself temporarily
suspended its field operations until April 1. Plans for counting the homeless was also postponed about a month and will not take place on April 29 and May 1.
U.S. Census Bureau Media Specialist Josh Green is hopeful.
“More people are likely to respond because they are spending a lot more time at home where they can fill out the online form,” he said.
So far, more than 18 million people have already responded. New this year, the census is also keeping a live track record of responses in each community, which can be viewed online. So far, about 26 percent of Half Moon Bay residents have self-responded to the census, compared with 19 percent for all of California.
Additionally, because of the virus halting some of the census outreach, the bureau has moved the last day to respond by about two weeks, to Aug. 14.