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Census outreach and operations resume despite COVID-19

May 15, 2020

How has COVID-19 changed how communities respond to the Census?

COVID-19 has not changed how most households should respond to the 2020 Census but it has resulted in the Census Bureau delaying many in-person field operations as of mid-March of 2020.

On May 15, the Census Bureau announced it would resume in-person field operations in Colorado during the week of May 18.   For the health and safety of Census employees and the public, field staff will observe social distancing protocols and will wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

Field employees will begin dropping off 2020 Census invitation packets at front doors of households in areas that do not receive mail at their homes. As a matter of practice, the Census Bureau does not deliver paper forms to PO Boxes. Some rural counties of Colorado have not yet received any materials from the Census Bureau requesting completion of the questionnaire because of these delays. 

If you live in a rural area, the Census Bureau recommends the following:

  • If you have received your invitation: Complete your form using your unique Census ID. 
  • If you have not received your invitation, but have a city-style address (such as “123 Pine St”): Provide your street address, not your Post Office Box number, when asked to login.
  • If you have not received an invitation and do not have a city-style address or receive mail exclusively at a Post Office Box: Wait to receive your invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau with your unique ID.

However, the Census Bureau operational adjustments do not affect the ability of most households to respond while they are safe at home to the Census as follows:

How has the Census Bureau adjusted specific operations due to COVID-19?

Further updates are forthcoming on how specific operations will proceed. The most recent guidance states:

  • Students normally staying in dorms or in off-campus housing should still be counted at those housing unit addresses even if an invitation letter has not been received;
  • Workers laid off from ski and tourism areas should be counted in those locations if that is where they usually live 
  • The Census count of people experiencing homelessness has been postponed temporarily.
  • The count of Group Quarters locations (like nursing homes, prisons, and student dorms) began on April 2 and continues until September 3, 2020.
    • The Census Bureau is encouraging administrators of facilities to choose an option for counting their residents that requires less in-person contact.

The final date for completing the Census has also been delayed to October 31. Additional recommended delays regarding use of Census data for state and local re-districting may require prior approval from Congress.

2020 Census Operation Update Timeline

What can nonprofits do to ensure a complete count during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Use existing communications channels to reach the people served by your nonprofit organization, donors, and others who would benefit from a reminder to complete the Census. Some general ideas include:

  • Sending an email to your organizations' contacts or include Census messaging in emails normally sent
  • Sharing messages on social media from the Census Bureau or state or local complete count committees
  • Using a phone or tablet to make a video about completing the Census on social media
  • Reminding your contacts to complete the Census when making phone calls
  • Adding a reminder to complete the Census to your email tagline
  • Check the Census Response Rate map to target outreach to you community

If you are not sure what message to send, here are some resources to help you deliver the message.

Digital Engagement and Non-Contact Outreach

How will communities be affected if delays in Census operations result in undercounts?

Specifically, Census data influences how communities respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways:

  • Healthcare facilities need to have funding and resources to effectively support the populations they serve. Complete and accurate census data ensure an accurate picture of these facilities
  • Scientists and health care experts use Census data to model the potential impact of an emerging health threat and the expected demand for resources.
  • An undercount could also affect the ability of communities to respond to and recover from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

In general, Colorado loses about $32,000 over the next decade in federal funds for each person who is not counted. 

The Census affects a community's allocation of funds including the following:


  • Locations of hospitals and clinics and how they deliver services based on community demographics
  • Federal block grant funding for construction of hospitals and health care clinics
  • Medicaid, Medicare Part B, and Children's Health Plan funding
  • Funding for prevention and treatment programs (e.g. substance abuses, diseases and illnesses)

Emergency response and public safety services

  • Mapping out where to distribute supplies and where vulnerable members of the public live
  • Disaster preparedness, including evacuation planning, and disaster recovery grant funding
  • Funding for firefighters, local law enforcement, and assistance for crime victims.

Businesses and economic development

  • Small Business Administration assistance and rural business development grants
  • Job training programs, including vocational rehabilitation and job services for people with disabilities
  • Where to open new locations and offer services, build factories, and hire new skilled employees
  • Identifying the number and demographics of potential customers and determining what products and services to offer
  • Determining which languages businesses need to support in their stores, advertising, and customer service

Housing services and programs for special populations

  • Funding to modernize public housing
  • Support for the rehabilitation and renovation of privately owned housing
  • Housing financing for low-income elderly populations
  • Assistance for renters in rural areas
  • Heating and weatherization assistance for low-income individuals

Family and social services

  • Funding for adoption assistance
  • Funding to support programs for survivors of abuse
  • Programs supporting the transition from homelessness
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps)