Census committee discusses idea of using COVID-19 testing sites for field operations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia remains near the bottom nationwide in the response to the 2020 Census and officials on Gov. Jim Justice’s Complete Count Commission are discussing more ways to help citizens fill it out.

The group, made up of leaders in different sectors in the state, met via conference call late Monday morning as West Virginia is tied for 49th in response rate at 47.1%.

Jill Upson, executive director of Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs and leading the minority efforts on the commission, said an idea may be to have citizens fill out the Census at testing sites for COVID-19 if they can do so safely.

Jill Upson

Upson is also one of the heads of a state task force aimed at studying and testing the minority population for the virus. She said mobile COVID-19 testing sites opening for minority communities this weekend include Cabell, Kanawha, Marion, and Monongalia counties.

“Utilizing mobile COVID-19 testing sites if we could do it in a safe way,” Upson said of the idea. “If we had someone who could help people with the 2020 Census forms while they are waiting in their cars in line.”

Upson emphasized that Census workers have to have the proper PPE to do so. Jamie Middlebrook with the Census said she would talk with Upson in the coming days about the idea. West Virginia was given the go ahead last week to resume field operations for the Census on a limited basis.

According to Upson, more than 2,300 people were tested for the virus in the first four counties the state emphasized in the minority communities and she said the idea would give them “access to people they want to count.”

Several counties in the state have a 15% response rate or below including Pocahontas, Mingo, Wyoming, Summers, Pendleton, and McDowell.

Joe DiBartolomeo, one of the governor’s designee to the commission said he is disappointed with these numbers.

“Some of the counties are doing really well and some of the counties are not even in the game. I think we need to get with Andy (Malinoski) and his group and do more targeting approach. I’m sure he is after a lot of these counties,” he said.

Malinoski, press secretary for the state Department of Commerce, was on the call and also reacted to the numbers including a 5.2% response rate in McDowell. He preached getting more local in those southern counties struggling to respond.

Andy Malinoski

“We need to make a concerted effort over the next two weeks to reamplify contents that shared by commerce, to create your own content with the dropbox link that we’ve had, to get out to county commission or local meetings to encourage people to respond,” Malinoski said.

The top counties responding to the 2020 Census as of Monday include Wood (66.1), Jefferson (64.3), Berkeley (63.4), Hancock (63.2), and Pleasants (63.1).

“We’re going to continue to layer up marketing, continue to focus on areas that are low,” Malinoski said of the next few weeks.

“The good thing is we still have the resources the governor allocated to us to spend judiciously and focus to the end of the campaign and make sure we push where we need to.”

The next meeting for this commission is scheduled for Tuesday, May 26 at 11:30 a.m.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) released a statement on the Census on Monday.

“The U.S. Census is vital to ensuring all Americans are counted and represented every ten years. In West Virginia, every citizen who fills out the Census brings $20,000 in federal funding to West Virginia for vital programs and services across the state and secures correct representation for West Virginians in Congress. With one of the lowest 2020 Census response rates in the nation, West Virginia must do better. I encourage every West Virginian to fill out the Census by visiting 2020census.gov or calling 844-330-2020 to help West Virginia receive federal funding for essential education programs, health services, and transportation.”

The deadline for all responses for the Census has been pushed to Oct. 31 due to the virus.

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