In a period of a lot of unknowns, April 1 represents a normal -- that is, one that happens every 10 years. It's U.S. Census Day, and amidst the coronavirus pandemic, officials want to make sure people still understand how important their census responses are.

NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with Jeff Behler with the U.S. Census Bureau to answer some questions about what the significance of Census Day is, how COVID-19 has changed some operations, and where people should go to send in their self-responses.

What is Census Day?

Every 10 years, April 1 is designated as "Census Day" in the U.S. It's historic because this is the reference point for people when they are filling out their census forms -- so whether you respond on March 12 or July 1, you are answering based on your daily normal per the first of April.

"It is really kind of a snapshot," Jeff Behler explained. "It's the day and time that we're taking this giant photograph of the nation to determine where people live and the characteristics of the people who live there."

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Behler says that people's responses for the U.S. Census are essential. That's because the Census helps the government determine how much funding areas around the nation require. 

"This is a great way to ensure your local hospitals, your health clinics, your emergency management services receive the funding they need for the next 10 years," Behler expressed.

The census is a way to get real numbers. It's not a sample or an estimate, but rather a "true, actual account of the entire nation", according to Behler, which is why your response is so important.

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COVID-19 impact

The U.S. Census Bureau has been dealing with changes in the wake of COVID-19. 

One of the biggest issues Behler is trying to bring attention to is the movement of most U.S. students back to their homes after campuses closed and classes moved to an online format as a health precaution.

Behler is encouraging students to fill out their responses as they normally would, if the move hadn't happened. According to the official U.S. 2020 census website, students "should be counted according to the residence criteria which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time."

Officials are asking schools to contact students and remind them to send in responses.

"We are trying in every way possible to get the message out to those students who may have left to go home for the rest of the semester," Behler said. "They still need to be counted in that college town or city."

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In Maine, Behler says they had about 10,000 people apply to work for the U.S. census. While the coronavirus pandemic has put door to door operations on hold for the foreseeable future, Behler told NEWS CENTER Maine that officials are in the process of calling applicants to let people know they are available to be selected. Training would change, Behler noted. 

"We're not going to bring people together in a classroom style setting or in a group setting anymore. It's going to be all virtual training."

Originally, the U.S. Census Bureau was planning to have people starting knocking on doors by the end of May, but now officials are waiting to do so until they feel it's safe for the health of employees and citizens. 

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Self-responses

The U.S. Census Bureau is encouraging people to self-respond if they can. Behler says the census team is troubleshooting issues as they happen.

"We're doing as much as we can virtually," Behler noted about the Bureau. "Our partners throughout Maine are doing an amazing job just sharing the message about how important it is (and) how safe the data is." 

To self-respond, there are three primary options you can take:

  • Visit 2020census.gov to fill out your information online
  • Call the toll-free response number at 844-330-2020
  • Mail-in your questionnaire. Behler says they will be sent out starting on April 8. 

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.newscentermaine.com/coronavirus.