Census relaunches field operations in Utah

(Paul Sancya | AP file photo) This April 5, 2020, file photo shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit.

As Utah begins to reopen after coronavirus shutdowns, the U.S. Census Bureau is following suit — and now is starting to send workers to deliver paper census questionnaires in rural areas where most residents use post office boxes.

The Census Bureau began hand-delivering census materials in such areas on March 15 but suspended all fieldwork three days later because of the pandemic.

It is restarting that operation now. The Census Bureau said in a news release that it plans to contact 88,600 homes in Utah.

Delay of that program has led to very low response rates so far in many rural counties because residents never received individualized codes needed to respond online or by phone, nor did they receive paper questionnaires.

Census data on Monday showed the response rate to date in Rich County is just 1.8%. Rates in some other rural counties included: 3.5% in Piute, 4.5% in Garfield, 5.1% in Beaver and 5.6% in Emery.

In contrast, the statewide response rate in Utah is 61.1%. Counties with the highest response rates are Morgan (73.2%), Davis (72.5%), Cache (68.3%), Utah (67%) and Salt Lake (65.3%).

The Census Bureau said field staff have been trained to observe all social distancing protocols and will wear government issue personal protective equipment for the safety of themselves and the public. This operation is supposed to be contactless and in line with the most current federal health and safety guidelines.

Counts from the census are used to determine how many seats a state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives, and determines how the federal government divides $1.5 trillion a year among the states and communities.

That’s important enough that the Utah Legislature approved spending $1 million on advertising and education to help ensure that Utahns answer it. In comparison, California is spending $154 million. Also, the Census Bureau itself plans to spend more than a half billion dollars this year — more than ever — to promote the census as safe, easy and beneficial to communities.