Residents of North Dakota who did not receive a mailed census form will soon have one hand-delivered.
Census workers deliver forms directly to residences when the resident does not have a physical address and receives mail in a post office box. These operations were suspended March 18, just days after they had begun, due to the pandemic.
This process, known as update leave, affects 41,700 North Dakota residents, many of which are in rural areas. The state is one of 13 scheduled to restart operations and resume update leave.
Dennis Johnson, deputy regional director for the census, said the decision to resume update leave this week was based on a number of factors.
"We have a checklist that we use, and it's based on local restrictions of people being able to leave their homes and so forth, as well as some of the current trends as far as the coronavirus is concerned," he said. "We certainly look at state regulations and see if there are anything in the state regulations that would prevent us from working. Also, we follow the guidance for the Centers for Disease Control and FEMA to make sure that the safety of our crew or the safety of our residents wouldn't be jeopardized by what we were doing."
As workers return to the field, the area census office is taking precautions to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
"They do not need to make contact with a resident at the unit. They just need to leave the information ... We're providing all of our workers with masks. In fact that's a requirement; they can't begin their work process until they've received a mask from us. We also have gloves available if the employee chooses to do that," Johnson said.
In addition to delivering census forms, field workers also update the office's address list on the spot via laptop.
"If it appears vacant, they still are going to leave a questionnaire and still record that as a house unit. If it's been demolished or it's no longer there or it's been converted into a business or something else, they have other ways to identify that on the list," Johnson said.
In August, they will begin visiting residents who haven't submitted a census form, a process that lasts for about 8-10 weeks.
North Dakota's response rate is in line with the national response rate of 57.3%. Stark County's response rate is 59.5%.