Census count extended until Oct. 31 due to pandemic
Despite COVID-19 precautions having stymied the delivery of census forms to rural areas last month, the enumeration of the state and Lycoming County leads many other parts of the country and other counties, respectively, said the region’s census director.
“We are back on track,” said Fernando E. Armstrong, regional director for the U.S Census Bureau.
His Pittsburgh-based office manages the U.S. Census for Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Virgina, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In the first week of May, all nine offices in Pennsylvania resumed their office work and rural deliveries after suspending operations since March 18.
“Right now we say that we, both at the national level and the commonwealth level, are ahead of where we thought we would be,” he said.
Online responses have been largely credited with keeping the census on track, said Armstrong.
“The design of the census is that people can go online in the comfort of their home and the privacy of their home with their family around them at the kitchen table, they can go online and they can do the census,” he said.
Although the overall response rate of the United States is at 59.5 percent, Pennsylvania is reporting 62.4 percent; of nearby states, it only lags behind Ohio and Maryland, which currently stand at a 64 and 63.5 percent response rate, respectively.
Other neighboring states’ response rates are: New York, 54.2 percent; New Jersey, 61.5 percent; West Virginia, 47 percent; and Delaware, 57 percent.
“We are very comfortable, happy, and lucky as well to have many partners that have been working with us, local officials who have been talking to the community about being a part of the census, the fact that it’s important,” said Armstrong.
He also credited mayors and the Lycoming County commissioners for their efforts in trumpeting the census’ importance.
Lycoming County is reporting the second highest response rate in north central Pennsylvania at 61.9 percent, only behind Union County at 65.1 percent.
Other neighboring counties’ response rates are: Tioga, 49.9 percent; Potter, 42.9 percent; Bradford, 55.2 percent; Clinton, 54.9 percent; Sullivan, 17.5 percent; Northumberland 59.6 percent; and Columbia, 57.9 percent.
While the counting was supposed to be finished by July 31, it has now been extended to Oct. 31, with door-to-door enumeration for those who haven’t responded starting Aug. 11.
“We felt very confident with how well the country has been responding, how well Pennsylvania has been responding, that makes us comfortable with the extension.” said Armstrong. “It was done in response to the present situation in response to COVID-19, we have a commitment to protect the health and safety of our field staff and our office staff, as well as the American public.”
“We feel that should be a priority that will continue to be a priority,” he added.
People may also respond online or by phone and mail at any time before Oct. 31.
In Lycoming County, Williamsport, at 51.9 percent, is slower to be counted than other smaller urban centers in the area. South Williamsport is the highest responding borough at 70.1 percent, followed by: Hughesville, 69 percent; Muncy, 67.4 percent; and Jersey Shore 59.3 percent.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, who runs the census, is obligated to have a complete count to the president the year that the census takes place, on Dec. 31.
“We have requested an extension, we have requested congress to legislate to give us up until April 1 to deliver those results to the president,” said Armstrong. “We are pretty confident we will be able to carry out what we need to do by the end of October. By that time in April we will be able to provide the results, just like we would have had there not been any COVID-19.”
For those looking to boost their own area’s numbers, the U.S. Census may still have positions available, said Armstrong.
“We are still open for employment, we are still open for people to apply especially now that so many people have been partially laid off or have had their work reduced, the students are back home, we do have jobs available and we would like to encourage people to consider that,” he said.
Training has been redesigned to occur remotely as per Gov. Tom Wolf’s requirements, which Armstrong said his region will “continue to abide all the way to the end.”
Appropriate personal protective equipment has also been distributed, he said.
“We started pretty early, when we realized that (COVID-19) was going to be an issue, we started early procuring all those materials,” said Armstrong.
Packets have been given to field staff to protect themselves, as well as office sanitization stations and policies have been installed.
In the end, Armstrong said that the COVID-19 pandemic may energize the public into responding to the census.
“People realize that having good data informs the governor’s office, the county executives, the mayor and all the people that are making decisions on a daily basis about how they protect us, how they make us safe, how they bring the county back to full health,” he said. “All those decisions need to be made with the most accurate and complete data.”