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Alaska News

Census Bureau suspends field operations throughout US, and rural Alaska teams will pause this week

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Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham, right, walks with census worker Tim Metzger after they conducted the first enumeration of the 2020 census Jan. 21, 2020, in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

U.S. Census Bureau employees will continue work in rural Alaska this week, even though field operations are on pause in the rest of the country due to the spread of coronavirus.

The bureau suspended field operations throughout the U.S. on Wednesday for the next two weeks.

Census spokesman Donald Bendz said there are currently census employees in 14 remote Alaska communities. The teams will finish surveying those but will not travel to any other villages during the suspension.

It takes two to five days for employees to survey each community.

“We are continuing enumeration in the areas where we already had teams working and where the villages are comfortable and have given us permission to finish up our work,” he said.

The bureau’s remote Alaska operation has already surveyed 140 communities and has 70 to go, Bendz said.

The census is a survey of America’s population, taken once every 10 years, and collects data about age, race, household size and more. The survey’s population totals impact how federal funding is distributed and how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bendz said the census is especially important during the current pandemic because population helps determine how federal relief aid will be issued.

“We are living through what census data is really at the core of,” he said.

The census began in January in Toksook Bay, a Western Alaska village on the Bering Sea. In rural Alaska, surveyors begin by going door-to-door in sparsely populated villages. Throughout the Lower 48 and in Alaska’s larger cities, households were invited by mail this month to respond online, over the phone or on paper.

Bendz said the bureau is planning to complete the in-person visits to homes in May, although the situation will be assessed again as that date approaches.

He urged people to complete the census in advance so the number of household visits can be reduced.

“One of the things we want people to do while they’re quarantined and ‘Netflixing’ or spending time with their family is to fill out the census, because the more responses we get, the less we will have to have enumerators going from door to door," he said.

Nationwide, more than 11 million households had responded to the census as of Wednesday, according to a statement from the bureau.

Preserving the health and safety of the public and census employees is the bureau’s top priority, Bendz said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging the public to practice social distancing and limit in-person interactions to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

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