Idaho Organizers Rethink Census Outreach Amid Coronavirus

Mar 16, 2020

Households in Idaho and across the country started getting information about how to fill out the 2020 census last week, and coronavirus concerns are making census officials and community organizers rethink how they do public outreach.


Organizations in Idaho were hoping in-person events would encourage people to fill out the census, especially hard-to-reach groups like refugees, tribal populations and those experiencing homelessness.


The Idaho Community Foundation gave $100,000 to 11 organizations conducting census outreach in Idaho.


Teton County, in which a confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on Saturday, had begun using the money on community gathering nights called “Noche Familiar" to reach the area's Latinx population.


Catholic Charities was planning on explaining the importance of the census at a citizenship workshop in Twin Falls on Saturday, but it cancelled the class due to the coronavirus. 


A number of other organizations planned events for April 1, Census Day, to help people — including seniors and non-English speakers — fill out the census. Many of the outreach efforts are scheduled at public libraries, which play a big role in preventing an undercount. But libraries in Idaho are beginning to close their doors.


Jennifer Kronberg, the chief communications and marketing officer for the Idaho Community Foundation said it's letting grantees think of new strategies.


“So even if they wrote a grant application to us for one thing that was kind of a large public gathering, but now they want to change direction and do something a little more electronic or via a website, we’re going to offer them that flexibility," Kronberg said.


A special U.S. Census Bureau task force is figuring out how to adapt staffing and resources as more people stay at home and public institutions shut down due to the coronavirus.


"We may need to revamp how we're doing things," said said Michael Hall, the assistant regional census manager for seven Western states. 


The Census Bureau might need to do more outreach online in the coming weeks, he said.


"How do we change our message to people? How do we maybe do more social media?"


And if people are concernced about door knockers, Hall said if you fill out the census form yourself — online, by mail or by phone — census workers won't need to come knocking on the door to follow up.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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