Ten years ago, the complications of counting the total population in the United States were reduced to low participation and the risk that the information would be used to perpetuate partisan district manipulation.
Today, simply counting people represents a critical risk for census takers and citizens alike.
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out on U.S. soil, and amidst a still-late response from the federal government, nearly 137,000 cases have been confirmed, with 2,413 deaths and 4,430 patients recovered.
However, these figures are relative due to the lack of an organized testing protocol.
Across the government, “three agencies responsible for detecting and combating threats like the coronavirus failed to prepare quickly enough. Even as scientists looked at China and sounded alarms, none of the agencies’ directors conveyed the urgency required to spur a no-holds-barred defense,” reported The New York Times.
If that is the scenario with a life-and-death public health crisis, what can be expected from the Census citizen count?
After legal battles to prevent the Trump Administration from re-imposing the citizenship question on the count sheets — a direct threat to the immigrant community in the country — the rapid spread of the virus nationwide has now forced the Census Bureau to delay the procedure, putting the entire country at risk.
According to an announcement by the bureau last Saturday, the start of the count has been tentatively postponed until April 15, pending the outcome of the pandemic scenario.
“The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions,” the bureau said in a statement.
Even though in-person counting is maintained in remote communities such as Alaska, Maine, and some American Indian tribal territories, the bureau’s recommendation is that people resort to filing online, by phone, or by mail, NPR explained.
But the public’s undermined confidence in government, as well as the lack of clear information regarding the pandemic, could jeopardize a correct count.
After it was announced that a census worker had tested positive for COVID-19, the circumstance has become more complicated, not only because of the risk it poses to employees and citizens, but because of the reaction households may have when they open their doors to census takers.
“An accurate census count is crucial,” the Business Insider explained. “The census is used to determine congressional representation and billions of dollars of government funding for the next 10 years. As the coronavirus has put many places on lockdown, caused many college students to move off campus, and forced millions of Americans to limit contact with others, it could be even harder to ensure an accurate count.”