When the Founding Fathers wrote the decennial census into the Constitution, they had no idea that a pandemic would plague the United States throughout its 24th census year — 2020. And like so many other projects, plans and processes, the census has learned to adapt.

Before COVID-19 hit, the U.S. Census Bureau’s field operations, where census takers make in-person visits to households that do not receive mail or are yet to respond, were set to begin in May, with the nationwide count wrapping up at the end of July.

The pandemic has pushed efforts back three months. Fieldwork is now set to begin across most of the country, including Colorado, in August, and the final participation deadline is now October 31. Census takers will receive social distancing training and personal protective equipment before going door-to-door.

As of July 1, about 65% of Colorado households had responded to the 2020 census. The state is just above the nationwide self-response rate of 62%.

Locally, as of July 1, only 44% of Lake County residents had responded to the census. This response rate puts Lake County 44th out of Colorado’s 64 counties for census participation.

Though Lake County’s response rate lags behind most Front Range communities, as well as Chaffee County, the county is seeing better participation than the neighboring mountain communities of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Park counties.

Low census response rates in Colorado’s mountain communities could be due, in part, to the presence of second-home owners, as well as immigrant communities who might be nervous about filling out the questionnaire.

It is important to remember that the Census Bureau aims to count all citizens, non-citizen legal residents, long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants. The questionnaire does not include a question on citizenship status and is available in 12 languages.

Most households in Lake County first received a census invitation via mail in March. Ever since, locals have received various reminders to partake.

Despite the census’s unexpected delays, it is now easier than ever to participate in the nationwide count.

2020 marks the first year in U.S. history that the census has been offered online. And according to the Census Bureau, about four out of every five participating households have chosen to respond online.

Other technological advances are also at play. Satellite and aerial imagery are helping verify addresses and a phone application called ECaSE will help personalize census-takers’ routes, based on their availability and what languages they speak, when they hit the streets in August.

The census determines the number of seats Colorado holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and how voter districts are drawn. The count is also an important determinant in how the federal government distributes money to local communities for schools, roads, healthcare, emergency response and more.

Help ensure a bright future for Lake County by responding to the census before October 31.

Rachel Woolworth

Herald Editor

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