Census takers back at work: But Covid-19 is posing a challenge to counting every Guam resident

July 6, 2020

 

In October last year, hundreds of jobseekers flocked to job fairs organized throughout the island by the 2020 Census of Guam, which had 700 positions to fill.

 

The field work was launched in February. Census takers barely began pressing doorbells when Covid-19 hit the headlines. Amid the big push for the survey, everything abruptly paused on March 14 after Guam detected its first two Covid-19 positive cases. Like all things big and small all over the world, the census process was disrupted by the raging coronavirus.

 

The 2020 Census of Guam suspended its operations for several weeks in the wake of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s declaration of public health emergency that entailed the government shutdown and closure of private establishments.

 

The Census office resumed operations on May 11 after the governor moved Guam to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 2 and lifted certain restrictions. The management team implemented a phased approach for all operations, with a staggered schedule for the return of staff. The plan was expected to take several weeks as new guidelines are implemented to align with public health requirements including social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment.

 

The Census of Guam tried to pick up from where it left off, but under different circumstances, the agency has to explore strategies that will work to meet its goals. At this juncture, performing the tasks can be an uphill battle.  

 

“A challenge the Guam Census Office faced during this time was to complete an accurate population count by August 2020,” said Nikki Quinata, partnership specialist. “Because of the shutdown, the completion of the 2020 Census of Guam was pushed back about seven weeks. Therefore, the Guam Census Office put plans in place to complete the 2020 Census of Guam by September, but to also have it completed with the safety of our employees and our island residents as their top priority.”

 

Results of mass testing for Covid-19 have been erratic. While daily numbers generally show a flatline, the occasional spikes rekindle the community’s anxiety. Both the census takers and households can be at risk of exposure and mutual suspicion can stymie the census process.

 

In recent days, the U.S. Census Bureau inadvertently sent a mailing to P.O. boxes in Guam that was intended for U.S. stateside residents only.  Guam residents who receive this mailing should disregard it.

 

The 2020 Census of Guam is being conducted over the phone or through in-person interviews at your home or local Census Center. Call the number on your notice of visit to complete your interview or schedule your appointment today. There is no online option for Guam.

 

If you have not received a notice of visit or have any questions, please call our office at (671)645-2020 or email us at guam@2020cenus.gov. 

 

There is no online option for the 2020 Census of Guam.  Residents may choose to complete the 2020 Census of Guam over the telephone or through an in-person interview. “All activities will follow specific guidelines (including the use of PPE and social distancing) to protect the health of the resident and the census worker. As a reminder,” the Census office said in a press release on May 9.  “The Guam Census office remains cognizant of the current public health situation and will continue to assess operations accordingly.”

 

Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the decennial census shapes much of American public life. What exactly is “census?” This word rests in the back of one’s mind and appears once every 10 years like passport renewal or high school reunion. The U.S. conducts the census every decade to collect data about American communities and count the population. “Census data has helped Guam in directing federal funds to different programs for education, healthcare, infrastructure, non-profit organizations, and other services for improvements,” Quinata said.

 

The last census was conducted in 2010. Guam’s population count was 159,358.

How many questions are there? The number of questions will depend on the responses for each individual within the household, but an interview usually takes about 40 minutes to complete.

 

What kind of questions will I be asked? Enumerators will collect demographic, housing, and socioeconomic data about the population of Guam. Respondents will be asked about the age, sex, race and ethnic origin, education level, employment status of each household members. They will also be asked about the housing characteristics of their home, including the age of the structure and the number of rooms.

Over the past decades, data had been collected through enumerators visiting residences to conduct surveys. Although the U.S. Census was in the process of creating an online survey, Guam Census hired many eager enumerators ready to speak with local residents. While the face-to-face interview is still an option, many residents are still wary of being around strangers. Besides, many believe it is too premature to retire social distancing, whether as an official policy or as a personal precaution.

 

                                                               Census takers began field work in February 2020. File photo

 

However, Guam Census believes the pandemic should not deter people from participating in the process. “By reading their notice of visit, residents can now complete the 2020 Census of Guam over the telephone or make an appointment to complete their interview in person,” Quinata said.

 

In this census cycle, the citizenship question has been tossed out of the questionnaire based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, which held that there was no adequate justification for the question.

 

Guam is a small community, where cases of illegally staying aliens are not as common as it is in the U.S. mainland.  But those who may have overstayed their visa are likely to duck from the census process for obvious reasons.

 

But Quinata maintains that all locals should participate. “It is now more important than ever to respond to the 2020 Census of Guam,” she said. “It is not only a once-in-a-decade population count, it is the opportunity to ensure our island receives proper funding allocated for emergency services, healthcare, infrastructure, public programs, and other services.”

 

Quinata said Guam’s responses “will generate statistics that will assist local leaders, lawmakers, business owners and non-profit organizations in vital decisions made for our island.”

 

Participating in the census, Quinata said, allows everyone who calls Guam home to make a difference in the community. “Responding to the 2020 Census of Guam will help impact the federal funding and statistical information needed for our community to grow and improve,” she said. “It also gives our residents the power to help shape our island’s future for generations to come.”

 

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