Government / Politics

In-person census activities hampered by coronavirus

San Benito County committee asks residents to self-respond online, over the phone or by mail.

Count the 2020 Census as another major undertaking affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The nationwide survey is responsible for the distribution of billions of dollars in funding to local schools, hospitals and government agencies.

“The county of San Benito is encouraging and promoting the community to self-respond to the 2020 Census, as it has a tremendous impact for the next 10 years,” said Dulce Alonso, county management analyst and member of the local census committee.

Field operations have been suspended until April 1, when the nationwide count officially begins. With a statewide shelter-in-place order in effect, people are being asked to respond to the census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. The survey can also be answered by phone or mail.

This is the first year the count has been available to take online.

“Most of the county 2020 Census outreach plan to reach our hard-to-count population included in-person activities,” Alonso said, adding that the county is utilizing 211 to send out census information and encourage participation. “We are leveraging our partners to pivot our approach. We have postponed the opening of our Question Assistance Centers and Question Assistance Kiosks. New methods are being explored to distribute 2020 Census [information] through local food distribution organizations and schools that provide free food for our community.”

The greatest challenge, Alonso said, has been assuring the hard-to-count population understands that “the census is safe, meaningful, and accessible.” San Benito’s hard-to-count population includes children under five, the unemployed, individuals living in crowded units, those with limited access to broadband, households receiving public assistance, non-high school graduates and limited English speakers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alonso said it has never been easier to respond to the census “on your own, all without having to meet a census taker.”

According to a March 18 release from the U.S. Census Bureau, timeline changes include:

  • The deadline for self response online, by phone or by returning the paper questionnaire has been extended from July 31 to August 14.
  • The update/leave operation, which is the hand delivery of census packets to about 6.2 million primarily rural households, plus most American Indian reservations, is now on pause until April 1 at the earliest.
  • Group quarters and service-based enumeration, which is one of the operations counting people experiencing homelessness, will be delayed until late April and early May.
  • Hiring and training of new census staff: The required fingerprinting of candidates applying for 2020 Census jobs has been paused for health reasons, meaning further hiring and training of new census field staff will be delayed. In-person training of Census Bureau staff has been suspended. The bureau is working to shift all training online, though much of the training already was online. 

The 2020 Census can be completed online at For more coronavirus-related census information, visit




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BenitoLink Hard to Count reporting was partially funded by the Census Fund through Community Foundation for San Benito County.


Erika Pina