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Despite coronavirus outbreak, county pushes for participation in the 2020 census

 
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State and local elected officials made an emphatic appeal last week urging all Santa Clara County residents take part in the 2020 census, announcing a series of initiatives to make sure everyone gets counted, despite the shelter-in-place order due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Households have already started to receive census forms in the mail with a unique ID and instructions on how to fill out the questionnaire, kicking off a monthslong effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to get an accurate decennial count of residents living in the United States. Census data serves as the basis for region's apportionment of federal funding and can affect California's share of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for next 10 years.

Despite the importance of an accurate census, counting Santa Clara County residents is expected to be an uphill battle. The county is already considered among the most difficult -- due mostly its significant diversity and need for multilingual services -- and the new coronavirus crisis has largely placed the Bay Area in lockdown. Social gatherings of any size have been banned, and residents have been ordered to stay at least six feet away from one another in order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness it causes.

Miguel Marquez, chief operating officer for Santa Clara County, told reporters at a press conference March 12 that health and safety is a top priority when carrying out the 2020 census, but that full participation remains vital. He said residents have plenty of ways to fill out the census without risking exposure to the coronavirus, including online and over the phone.

"There is absolutely no reason why you cannot fully participate in the census just because of coronavirus," Marquez said.

Residents can go to my2020census.org to fill out the census online or call 844-330-2020 to respond over the phone. Starting March 23, Santa Clara County will be launching a network of 105 kiosks where people can fill out the census, ensuring everyone has access to the technology needed to complete the census, said Deputy County Executive David Campos.

Kiosks will be available at the Mountain View Senior Center, the Mountain View Community Center and the Mountain View Public Library. All three locations are currently closed to the public due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

The county is also establishing 16 staffed assistance centers to help residents fill out the questionnaire, and will have U.S. Census Bureau workers canvassing door-to-door to record answers in immigrant communities where residents may be less likely to respond. Bureau workers have been trained on safe contact with residents, Marquez said.

State Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), who led California's legislative committee on the census, praised the county's multi-pronged approach to getting an accurate count of residents for the 2020 census, which has since been copied in other counties in the state. All told, he said the state has put a $187 million "investment" into ensuring California gets its fair share of federal funding and House seats.

"We know that there are a variety of barriers to participation and that there is some anxiety in some communities in Santa Clara County, but we want everyone to know that your voice matters and it is absolutely critical that you get counted in the 2020 census," Berman said.

The resounding message from county supervisors is for residents to fill out the census questionnaire with a sense of urgency, mail it off as soon as possible and push for friends and family to do the same.

"Share this with grandparents, parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, everyone in the extended family and neighborhood," said Supervisor Dave Cortese. "This has become a referral business. We need to refer people into this process and the best way that happens is one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one city at a time and one county at a time."

Mountain View Councilwoman Ellen Kamei, a member of the county's "Complete Count" committee, said the city has worked diligently on outreach and assistance to reach all Mountain View residents, including those who don't speak English and the growing homeless population.

"The city has been actively working to support a complete count in Mountain View to raise awareness and access to the census in our traditionally hard-to-reach groups," Kamei said. "Those are seniors, the unhoused, and particularly, the Spanish, Russian and Mandarin-speaking communities."

More information can be found on the county's census web page.

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