Measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus shift outreach efforts to digital interactions

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon II today proclaimed Apr. 1 as Census Day in the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County. With Syracuse-Onondaga County Complete Count Committee (SOC-CCC) partners, Mayor Walsh and County Executive McMahon emphasized the urgency of residents being counted online, by phone, or by mail. In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the unknown time frame public gatherings will be on hold, a modified outreach strategy will launch to maximize self-response participation for the 2020 Census.

From mid-to-late-March, mailers were distributed to homes by the U.S. Census Bureau. Residences received an identification code and instructions on how to respond, with additional reminder mailers sent to any residence that was unresponsive. As of Mar. 30, the response rate for the entire city reached 30%, and the response rate for the entire county reached 40.6%.

“The challenges posed by COVID-19 make reaching historically undercounted communities even more difficult,” said Mayor Walsh. “However, we are working on ways to adapt previously planned engagement opportunities to meet social distancing requirements while still being creative, intentional, and inclusive in order for everyone to participate in this important process.”

County Executive McMahon said, “Especially during these unprecedented times, it is imperative that every member of our community is counted during the 2020 Census. All of our neighbors, including those in the city, suburbs and rural communities, play an important role in making sure that our voices are heard and that we receive the funding we deserve.” McMahon continued, “I encourage everyone to take the time to complete the census and do so in a safe and healthy way.”   

To supplement the lack of face-to-face events and canvassing activities, in declaring Apr. 1 Census Day, both Mayor Walsh and County Executive McMahon are calling on people to take advantage of this time to complete their census as businesses are closed, people are home, and social festivities are postponed. In addition to simply taking the census, they are asking the community to spread the word and encourage a family member, friend, or neighbor to self-respond by the extended cut-off date of Aug. 15.

According to the national 2020 Census Self-Response Map, about one-third of the completed questionnaires out of Onondaga County were filled out online. To help people navigate the questionnaire, video guides in English and non-English languages are available on the website. The City and County will launch a digital campaign later this month to motivate residents to complete the census and communicate that its safe, easy, and most of all, important for our community.

Members of the SOC-CCC subcommittees are focusing on additional ways to garner participation through business, faith-based, refugee, immigrant, rural, and elderly communities, amongst others. The subcommittees are exploring phone- and text-banking, flier distribution, and virtual workshops.

“As an organization with boots on the ground, prior to COVID-19 we fully expected to be out in the community and in people’s homes sharing how important the census is,” said Fanny Villarreal, executive director of the YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County. “Our game plan to do that work now consists of talking to people and answering questions about the census using social media and the radio.”

Individuals without internet access can self-respond by phone by calling 1-844-330-2020. Language support for more than a dozen languages other than English is also available by phone.  Beginning Apr. 8 until Apr. 16, paper questionnaires, with paid-postage return envelopes, will be mailed to all households that have yet to respond to the census for the option to complete it by mail.

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