Christian Arana and Jacqueline Martinez Garcel: How the coronavirus could endanger the 2020 census
Guest Commentary

Christian Arana and Jacqueline Martinez Garcel: How the coronavirus could endanger the 2020 census


The census is a constitutionally mandated process that has occurred since 1790. It has been administered during a world war, earthquakes, the Great Depression - and now a pandemic.

The coronavirus presents a particular challenge to the 2020 census - which kicked off earlier this month - because human transmission of the virus has prompted public health officials to discourage public gatherings and limit social interactions. Most of us are self-isolating at home.

Historically, the census involves workers knocking on doors, and rallies and community meetings to raise awareness. Many such events have been canceled, and the Census Bureau is emphasizing digital outreach. "It has never been easier to respond ... without having to meet a census taker," the bureau announced recently.

Yet grassroots organizations and local census "complete count committees" had been planning to use public spaces such as libraries and community centers to raise awareness about the census - and help communities fill out the survey. New and emerging guidelines regarding the coronavirus will likely hamstring their efforts to meet with as many people as possible face-to-face.

Limiting public interactions poses a particular challenge for the count of Latinos and immigrants, who often depend on in-person interactions to help them understand the census - and its importance to their economic and political power.

If you don't respond to the census by late April, census takers will probably knock on your door beginning in late May, although the Census Bureau will continue to monitor the impact of the coronavirus on that plan.

Though no physical interaction is required to complete the count, concerns over contracting the virus could affect the traditional door-to-door process.

California's Dianne Feinstein is among a coalition of U.S. senators who sent a letter to the Census Bureau's director on March 4 urging it to be prepared to assess whether concerns about the virus are "depressing census response rates" and to develop contingency plans to help ensure "a full and accurate population count."

Regardless of any challenges, the mission of the census has always remained the same: By trying to count every person in our country, communities attain their rightful share of political representation and federal resources for vital programs such as the early childhood program Head Start and Section 8 housing, which provides subsidies to low-income residents.

The coronavirus is yet another major reminder of why it's important for our state to have access to accurate census data.

An accurate census count can help ensure that we have the necessary public health services to provide a safety net for those in need, whether that means properly funding community health clinics, ensuring child care needs are met or devoting resources to emergency preparedness. Based on the 2010 census, California received nearly $56 billion for Medi-Cal, its version of Medicaid.

On March 12, many households across the country received an invitation in the mail to fill out the survey, and more than 11 million people have already responded as of this writing, according to the Census Bureau.

Do your part by giving the census prompt attention - and preventing a census taker from having to knock on your door. It can be filled out online, by phone or via a paper questionnaire that will be sent to households in mid-April as a reminder to fill out the survey.

Ordinary residents can also play a significant role in ensuring an accurate census count. They can raise awareness on social media by reposting key census information from trusted sources such as the state census office. They can engage with relatives, friends and co-workers to see whether they need help understanding how to fill out the census. The young, who are digital natives, can become involved by going online and connecting with neighbors to help them fill out the census.

Local ethnic media, including radio, should augment census awareness campaigns, especially for non-English speakers. In California, multilingual radio stations such as Radio Bilingue in the Central Valley and KBBF-FM in the wine country of Northern California are running near-continuous public service announcements on why census participation matters.

In 2020, the coronavirus and the census count are inextricably linked. People across the state and country should view filling out the census the same way they do the increased need to wash their hands - as a civic duty.

Christian Arana is the policy director and Jacqueline Martinez Garcel is the chief executive officer of the Latino Community Foundation.


Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

  • Updated

The administration and staff of Lompoc Valley Medical Center, Lompoc Health and the Comprehensive Care Center are thankful for the outpouring of support in recent days for our healthcare workers. Our highest priority is the health and safety of our community members, our medical staff and our employees.

  • Updated

We're in this together. (Just don't stand so close.) We're unified in our goal. (But look, 6 feet away, OK?) If you haven't been outside lately, let me paint a picture: People are outside but not many people are outside, and wherever people are going right now - to grocery stores, jogging trails, gas stations - an elaborate dance is happening, a social distancing pas de deux, being learned on ...

  • Updated

Sometime within the next few weeks, the federal government will have to make arguably the most far-reaching policy decision since World War II. The strategy of social isolation to mitigate transmission of the novel coronavirus has been in place for less than a month, and President Donald Trump is now suggesting most restrictions should be lifted by Easter, April 12, although no official ...

  • Updated

GUEST COMMENTARY Recently I saw a river of special blue Lupin splattered with yellow and white field flowers cascading down as far as I could see. Powerful oaks silhouetted against the slate-gray sky stood in command of the ridgeline. Carpets of rain slaked grasses emerald green everywhere. There was only the sound of my thoughts to distract me.

DAN WALTERS As the coronavirus pandemic was clobbering California — and the rest of the known world — this month, local government officials in Sacramento County enthusiastically decided to ask voters to approve a hefty sales tax increase for transportation improvements.

ANDY CALDWELL I walked into Costco to see for myself. Had there really been a run on water and toilet paper as a result of hysteria having to do with the coronavirus? The answer is yes! This, in spite of the fact that there has been no indication that our water supplies could either be contaminated or shut off in the event of a pandemic, and this particular flu affects the lungs and not the digestive tract. The other run on the market that at least made some sense was the hoarding of hand sanitizer.

President Trump has done everything he can to make the coronavirus epidemic seem less scary than is conveyed in stories like the one published Saturday by ProPublica describing lung failure in COVID-19 patients. That's not a bad impulse - a time-honored job of the commander in chief is to reassure Americans that they will get through whatever they're in, and to prevent a mass panic. The issue ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alert

Breaking News