Census commission remains pushing for field operations at COVID-19 testing sites

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s Complete Count Commission, targeting the participation of the 2020 US Census in West Virginia, met via phone on Monday and once again expressed the need to take advantage of COVID-19 testing sites as places for the public to fill out the Census.

However, commission leaders expressed frustrations on Monday about the idea of not getting its wheels based on continued health concerns around the state.

“Having Census workers able to distribute information or somehow encourage people to fill out the Census at these sites, there is still a concern with health departments and the National Guard about public safety,” Jill Upson, the executive director of Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs and leading the minority efforts on the commission said on the call.

Jill Upson

Upson said the free public COVID-19 testing, being done through the Governor’s Office, DHHR, the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, and the WV National Guard, has been at 32 different sites in recent weeks.

The public testing moves to Ohio, Putnam and Summers counties on June 19 and 20.

“I have said it on the last call and calls before this, we are definitely missing an opportunity. These testing sites are going right into vulnerable communities and communities of color, the people we definitely need to reach to fill out these Census forms,” Upson said.

Joe DiBartolomeo, one of the governor’s designees to the commission, said they must find better ways to work with health departments in getting this opportunity done.

As of Monday evening, West Virginia’s response rate for the Census sits at 53 percent, up 4.7 from last Monday’s meeting of the commission. That is good for the 47th overall response rate out of the 50 states.

Andy Malinoski, press secretary for the state Department of Commerce and one of the leaders for marketing of the Census reported that impressions and clicks online are up in the past few weeks and there was more traffic on the Census around the state’s primary election.

Malinoski said since May 1, West Virginia’s self-response rate has grown 9.4 percent.

Andy Malinoski

“Impressions are up 10 percent week over week, clicks are up nine percent week over week, which is a good thing. We are driving more people to the respond site. I am working with digital relativity more to continue to find age ranges and demographics that are responding,” Malinoski said.

He defined the click-throughs as users who have responded to the ad which generated a direct call from the Census or brought the person to the response page.

There are still residents that will not respond to any advertising, Malinoski said. He added the door-to-door efforts beginning in August will be the last resort as COVID-19 remains a threat.

“There are some people that I believe that we can all see that are not going to respond based on an ad, based on a mail-in or based on a digital ad. They are going to need the door-to-door process to work for them,” he said.

The deadline for all responses for the Census has been pushed to Oct. 31 due to the virus. Census takers will begin to interview homes on August 11.

22 of the 55 counties in West Virginia sit above a 50 percent response rate, with Wood County leading the way at 67.3 percent.

The next phone meeting for the commission is scheduled for June 22.

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