COVID-19 outbreak underscores importance of completing 2020 census for Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Recent emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Routt County have served as prime examples of the importance of completing the 2020 census.
The county’s emergency operations center, which has been active for about the last month to help manage the public health crisis, received its third shipment of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile on Friday, April 3. Supplies consisted of essential resources, such as face masks, protective gloves and bottles of water. County officials have prioritized giving these items to health care workers, first responders, law enforcement and those working with vulnerable populations.
The federal government bases the allotment of these limited supplies on census data. As of this week, 90% of the personal protective equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile had been distributed across the country, according to an Associated Press news report.
“We depend on these federal resources to leverage our county resources,” Routt County Emergency Operations Director David “Mo” DeMorat said in a news release.
But as of Wednesday, April 8, Routt County had among the lowest census response rates in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It ranked 51st among Colorado’s 64 counties with a response rate of 19.4%. Douglas County, which ranked highest, recorded a response rate of 61.5%.
Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton expressed disappointment at the area’s relatively low participation thus far. In recent weeks, she has been helping to encourage more responses through the Routt County Complete Count Committee. Composed of leaders from various local organizations, the Complete Count Committee hopes to garner a 100% response rate for the 2020 census.
In addition to resource allotments, census numbers determine how more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds get used and distributed. That money provides a long list of resources for the state and the local community, from hospitals to schools to public transportation.
“Every person who is counted increases our access to a lot of different kinds of funding for the local community,” Melton said, adding that the dollar amount each resident helps to provide through the census count grows exponentially.
“While it may seem small that you are one person, it’s one person times the 10 years until that the census happens again,” Melton said.
Census results also determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and help to inform legislative district boundaries.
Responding to the census has never been easier, according to Laurie Cipriano, Colorado media specialist with the Census Bureau. For the first time this year, residents can respond to the census online at 2020census.gov.
People also may turn in their census packets through the mail as in past counts.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has extended the response deadline from July 31 to Aug. 14.
The state’s stay-at-home order has postponed initiatives to drop off census packets at residents’ homes. Some residents therefore have not received a census packet or invitation in the mail, such as people with P.O. boxes. If that is the case, the online questionnaire has a link that says “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.“
Some unexpected living situations resulting from the pandemic have raised questions about how households should count the people who live there. The census asks residents to count everyone who usually lives and sleeps in the home as of April 1, regardless of age and even if they are staying somewhere else temporarily.
This does not include college students who may have returned to their parents’ houses amid campus closures. If students normally live in college dorms, the school includes them in their own census response, so those students do not need to respond. If they live off-campus, they should list their address from their college town or city as their physical address, Cipriano said.
In the coming weeks, Melton said the Complete Count Committee will mail out reminders asking residents to participate in the census. A phone bank also will be established to call residents who have not responded.
For more information on the census or to participate, visit http://www.2020census.gov.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.