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The 2020 Census And COVID-19: What's Next?

Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, in January when they unveiled advertising for the 2020 Census. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
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We already knew that:

Here's the latest from NPR's Hansi Lo Wang on the state of the 2020 Census:

Already saddled with cybersecurity risks, hiring challenges and wavering public trust, the 2020 census now must contend with a growing public health crisis.

NPR has learned that at least one U.S. Census Bureau employee — who was recently hired, spokesperson Michael Cook says, and has not interacted with the public on behalf of the bureau — has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined.

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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the bureau has decided to delay starting its early round of door-knocking by census workers in college towns to April 23. The bureau is also waiting until early April, instead of late March, to begin its outreach effort to send out representatives with computer tablets to help people submit their census responses online. That program, which is expected to cost at least $100 million, is designed to target people in high-traffic locations, from public transit hubs to grocery stores.


Without leaving home, you can take about 10 minutes now to submit a response on behalf of your household — either online at or over the phone.

If you prefer paper, all households that haven't responded by early April are expected to receive a physical questionnaire in the mail. Some households in areas with low Internet subscription rates, and communities with higher shares of residents over age 65, are set to receive paper forms by March 20.

Those would be "the safest" ways to do the census because they involve little to no person-to-person contact, says John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director who left the agency in 2017.

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But the key is to turn in your household's legally required response as soon as possible, Thompson adds. Otherwise, your home address is likely to be added to the list of places for census workers to visit in person beginning May 13.