State Census Commission looking at response strategies as deadline nears

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the final push is on before the self-response deadline for the 2020 U.S. Census comes in September, state officials are continuing to look for different ways of having citizens fill it out in the field.

In the most recent meeting of Gov. Jim Justice’s Complete Count Commission, designees once again discussed how the Census could be involved with the public testing sites for COVID-19 across the state.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has hosted free public COVID-19 testing to target minority populations, through the Governor’s office, the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, and the WV National Guard at dozens of counties this summer.

Joe DiBartolomeo, one of the governor’s designee to the commission, told members this past week that the struggle continues in an attempt to get the Census set up at those sites.

“Some of these health officials are saying we don’t want to see Census officials in our sight. I don’t quite understand that rationale because I do not know that it would interfere with what they doing quite frankly. Most of it is by car anyway,” DiBartolomeo said.

He said they need to continue to try and work through the Justice’s office to see if there was something more they could do, saying there would be immediate reach to certain populations. Jill Upson, the executive director of Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs and leading the minority efforts on the commission was absent for the past meeting.

Dreama Pritt, the media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, told the group the U.S. Census will follow the rules of the local health departments with workers, but did say the Census is being included in packets at those testing sites.

On Saturday, the DHHR is scheduled to hold testing in Brooke and Lewis counties.

“We are definitely going to follow health and safety guidelines,” Pritt said.

“What we have been doing at each of those sites is including some of our Census promotional material. Flyers directed towards minorities and things like that at each of those sites.”

The latest numbers for the U.S. Census indicate West Virginia has a 55.1 percent response rate, above two other states in Alaska and New Mexico.

The U.S. Census recently announce the self-response deadline was moved from October 31 to September 30. Census workers have been out in the field, working on those who have not responded.

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