FARGO — As the U.S. Census Bureau resumes early field operations that were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, North River in Cass County remains the only community in the country to have achieved a 100% response rate in the 2020 census.

Four sister Cass County cities are also in the top 20 for census response nationally: Harwood, Argusville, Frontier and Reile's Acres.

"The response in North Dakota has been great," said Dennis Johnson, deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Johnson said North Dakota's overall response rate is about 57%, similar to the response rate for the nation.

In Minnesota, the census response rate is about 68%, which makes it tops among the states, according to Johnson, who said the 2020 census is resuming a process that started in mid-March but was interrupted by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

In North Dakota and across the country, census workers are again dropping off questionnaire packets at the doors of households that do not receive mail at their physical address but instead receive it some other way, such as through a P.O. box.

The census aims to leave packets at about 41,700 households in North Dakota and about 5.1 million households nationwide.

That effort is expected to continue for the next three to four weeks.

The Census Bureau believes it has enough workers to do that job, but Johnson said that may not be the case come August, when workers begin visiting households that have not responded to census questionnaires.

That is why response rates are important, according to Johnson.

"The higher the percentage of households that have already responded, the fewer workers we need," he said, adding that the response rate for the Bismarck area is more than 70%

"That's pretty exciting for us," Johnson said.

Friendly competition

One factor behind North River's census response success was Casey Eggermont, city auditor for the community of about two dozen households.

Eggermont said she kept tabs on the city's ranking nationally and did her part to keep residents focused on getting their responses in.

"Every time we would bump up, I'd send out another email saying, 'We're at this amount; let's go guys. Let's get 100%.

"It's one of those bragging rights I really wanted for North River," said Eggermont, whose get-out-the-response efforts aren't over.

Eggermont is also city auditor for Harwood and she said she is currently competing, in a friendly way, with Argusville City Auditor Mary Howatt in a race to reach 100% census response.

Who's ahead in the head count changes constantly, according to Eggermont.

"It's really been fluctuating," she said.

"Argusville just got above us last week," added Eggermont, who doesn't live in either North River or Harwood.

"I live up in Galesburg. They're not nearly as motivated," Eggermont said.

Howatt said it's been fun to watch Argusville move up and down in the rankings, even attaining second place for a time, but she isn't sure what more can be done to move the needle.

"I think we're tapped out," she said.

A check of the Census Bureau website Friday, May 8, showed that as of May 7 the official rankings for U.S. cities and response rates looked like this:

  • Harwood, 8th place, 89%
  • Argusville, tied for 9th place with Trout Valley, Ill., 88.8%
  • Reile's Acres, 11th place, 88.3%
  • Frontier, 16th place, 87.3%.

Johnson said pandemic-related safety procedures will be in place for census workers if and when home visits begin later this summer for households that haven't responded to census questionnaires.

"We would have masks for our staff. In areas where they're required, we would have gloves," Johnson said, adding: "We would take every precaution we can. If there's a possibility of doing something by phone, with the resident's permission, we would certainly try to do that."

Johnson underscored that home visits aren't necessary when people use one of the several options open to them for answering the census questionnaire, including going online, using their phone or mailing in a paper form.

"That not only protects them, but it protects our staff and it accomplishes the mission," Johnson said.