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COVID-19 outbreak isn't stopping York City's census efforts

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, a worker gets ready to pass out instructions on how to fill out the 2020 census during a town hall meeting in Lithonia, Ga. Although the 2020 census kicked off in rural villages of Alaska in January, the rest of the nation gets to start participating in the once-a-decade head count in the coming days. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

York City's mission to spread the word about the importance of the U.S. Census hasn't come to a halt despite confirmed COVID-19 cases spiking in Pennsylvania.

Instead, officials and organizers lobbying for residents to take the questionnaire that determines legislative representation and municipal funding have shifted their operations to a virtual approach — something that does come with some drawbacks.

“I believe it is harder in terms of reaching people one on one, having that personal engagement," said Ricky Quintero, Mayor Michael Helfrich's executive assistant heading census initiatives. "Social media cannot equate to how it can be in person"

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The effects of the virus — which had infected more than 4,000 and contributed to the deaths of 49 in the state as of Monday afternoon — have left those involved having to get creative and visual with their outreach efforts. 

The city on Friday was slated to solidify its online efforts in an informational campaign outlining the census' importance through the area's "complete county committee," a partnership with York County and local organizations.

The campaign includes dispersing information through graphics on social media.

"It’s going to be the basics of the census. Why the census is important, some of the ways an effective count would help the municipalities and to encourage the fact that over $2,000 per person could be lost if they don't participate," Quintero said.

The U.S. Census Bureau has made changes to its schedule to compensate for the effects of the coronavirus.

For example, Americans now have until Aug. 14 to respond via mail, phone or online instead of the initial due date at the end of July.

Those on the ground, though, are acting as if the due date hasn't changed.

CASA, an immigrant-advocacy organization, knocked on more than 4,500 doors and had 686 individuals sign pledge cards prior to March 10 in the York area.

Since having to switch to online methods in mid-March, members have made more than 1,700 calls.

“It’s very effective,” said Evelyn Blanco, an organizer with York City’s CASA branch. “Not just the convenience from working from home, but the amount of conversation is super high. A lot of people are picking up the phone, and they really want to talk.”

CASA's work has been especially important, officials say, as census participation among the immigrant population has historically been very low.

That's mostly because some immigrants are hesitant to interact with the government because of their immigration status, with others under the wrong impression that their status would prevent them from being counted.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.