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COVID-19 May Corrupt Census Results


This country officially counts its population and records a fair amount of information about residents through a census, but the 2020 effort has been delayed and could be incorrect because of COVID-19. 

The census is key to drawing congressional boundaries, but that’s not the only thing that makes the official count important.  Governments and businesses use census data to plan. At UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center, research analyst Spencer Shanholtz says communities could be hurt if their populations are undercounted.

“They might receive less funding, and then businesses, governments will incorrectly plan for the future and could put too many roads in a certain area or not enough hospitals.”

This year, for the first time, people were invited to answer census questions online, and Shanholtz says that has gone well.

“The self-response rate so far overall are fairly high. A lot of that may have to do with being home and having some extra time to answer their survey."

And during the pandemic, he says, people may have a better understanding of why census numbers are important.

“Information gathered from the census can be used to track rates of infection or determine hospital beds or possible the amount of vaccine a community might need,” he explains.

But populations of college towns, prisons and nursing homes are in flux, and many immigrants are reluctant to respond.  This week, Virginia will begin sending census workers door-to-door, hoping to ensure a more accurate count.  

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