The U.S. Census is looking remain “on track” with its data collection process in Puerto Rico, where a lockdown in place since Mar. 15 has sidelined its door-to-door surveyors.
María Olmedo-Malagón, program manager for the 2020 Census communications campaign, said this is so because the agency has several other methods in place to collect the data, including a letter by mail sent last week to about 1 million Puerto Rico residents.
The letter invites them to respond to the 2020 Census, which all recipients are manded by law to answer, either online or over the phone.
In keeping with guidance from public health officials in Puerto Rico, the Census Bureau suspended hand-delivering census invitations and paper forms to households in mid-March because of health and safety concerns with COVID-19. The previously planned letters will provide a Census ID to help people respond.
“We’re on pause. We have an order to remain at home, so our surveyors aren’t allowed to leave their homes. It’s important for their health and for the public’s health,” she said.
Puerto Rico is part of the 5% of the U.S. population that requires a different type of data collection method because of the nature of its rural areas, which may not have reliable addresses, or because it has experienced natural disasters, she said.
“Puerto Rico is one of those places under the natural disasters category, because of Hurricane María and the recent earthquakes,” she said. “Given that, we decided to run an operation called update/leave. Addresses are updated and the invitation package is dropped off, as well as a paper questionnaire.”
Despite the lockdown, Olmedo-Malagón said the agency is “working hard” to meet the U.S. Constitutionally-mandated Dec. 31 deadline to submit the data to President Trump.
“It’s a challenge, but we have three ways to get it done,” she said, confirming that the U.S. Census will eliminate the website response option in mid-August.
The Census Bureau is consulting with public health officials to determine when it is safe to resume dropping off census materials door to door. The effort was originally planned to occur from Mar. 15 — when Puerto Rico’s lockdown and 24/7 curfew went into effect — through April 17.