Virus outbreak delays Census counting off-campus students

A person holds census information handed out at an event in New York City on February 22.
A person holds census information handed out at an event in New York City on February 22. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Because of the new coronavirus, the U.S. Census Bureau has postponed sending out census takers to count college students in off-campus housing and delayed sending workers to grocery stores and houses of worship where they help people fill out the once-a-decade questionnaire.

The Census Bureau said in a statement Sunday that the deadline for ending the 2020 census at the end of July could be adjusted as needed. The 2020 census started last week with its website going live and the start of mailings notifying people to start answering the questionnaire.

As of Sunday, 5 million people had already responded to the census, according to the bureau.

This is the first decennial census in which most people are being asked to respond to the questions online, although they can answer the questions by telephone or by mailing back a paper form. In May, the Census Bureau plans to start sending out census takers to homes whose residents haven't yet answered the questions.

The Census Bureau said it would change the messaging for its paid advertising to emphasize that people should self-respond online, by telephone or through the mail so they don't have to see a census taker.

“It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker," the Census Bureau has said in several statements since the outbreak of the virus.

Because college students often leave campuses before May, the Census Bureau had planned to send out census takers to interview students in off-campus housing in mid-April. But that has been delayed since universities across the U.S. have sent their students home because of coronavirus concerns.

More than half of college and universities had planned to provide information about their on-campus students to the Census Bureau using administrative records. For schools that had planned to distribute paper forms to students living on campus, the Census Bureau is now contacting them to see if they want to change their preference.