US Census Bureau suspends fieldwork until April 15 as worker tests positive for coronavirus
As millions of United States households fill out 2020 census forms on their own, the novel coronavirus pandemic is forcing the Census Bureau to suspend field operations until April 15 after an employee on the site tested positive for COVID-19.
The bureau announced the news this Saturday, more than a week after it announced it was suspending field operations until April 1 to collect data from unresponsive households as well as in-person counting in remote communities in Alaska, Maine, and some American-Indian tribal territories.
On Saturday, the United States' death toll from the coronavirus pandemic crossed 2,000. Across the country, more than 102,120 coronavirus cases have been confirmed so far. New York remains the hardest-hit state with 52,315 and 728 deaths.
According to the World Health Organization's (WHO), the official tally at the time of writing was 575,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with the death toll standing at 26,654. However, other sources, including Johns Hopkins University, report that there are over 663,000 confirmed cases worldwide and a death toll of over 30,000.
In a statement on Saturday, the Central Bureau said, "The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions."
Last week, the bureau announced it was reducing the number of on-site workers at its facilities that process paper questionnaires in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
According to NPR, an employee at the site has tested positive for COVID-19. "The employee is following the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health," Michael Cook, a spokesperson for the bureau told NPR. The bureau found out about the diagnosis earlier in March, and the employee, who has since been in quarantine, has not been at the facilities since March 17.
"We strongly encourage all employees to practice 'social distancing' to slow the spread of this coronavirus," the bureau said in a message distributed to employees at the agency's National Processing Center.
The building where the employee worked in Jeffersonville — which is located across the river from Louisville, Ky — will receive a "deep cleaning," according to the message, and employees have been advised not to enter it "until further notice."
On March 27th, the Bureau announced that it was temporarily suspended in-person interviews for its ongoing surveys in support of guidance on what we can all do to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The Bureau is continuing to urge households to submit their legally required responses on their own now online, over the phone or by paper form if they receive one. As of Saturday, nearly 32% of those households across the country have completed a form, according to the latest data released by the bureau.
The activities put on hold until April 15th include hiring workers, in-person counting in remote areas of Alaska and Maine, as well as some American Indian tribal territories, leaving paper forms outside of homes in Puerto Rico and other places recovering from natural disasters.
Federal law states that the latest state population counts are due to the president by the end of the year. The updated count determines each state's share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes for the next ten years. They also guide how federal funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and other public services are divided up among local communities.