COVID-19 and the Census

Stephon Johnson | 3/19/2020, 12:28 p.m.
The first-ever online Census couldn’t have come at a better time for many New Yorkers, but it may have been ...

The first-ever online Census couldn’t have come at a better time for many New Yorkers, but it may have been the worst time for some.

Jennifer Jones Austin, the CEO and executive director of Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said that the pandemic highlights the Census and puts it in a brighter light.

“The coronavirus makes the importance of completing the Census all the more important,” said Austin. “The decennial count of all residents is used in times of crisis, like we have now, to determine the appropriate allocation of emergency federal assistance to individuals and communities in need of food supports, temporary housing and shelter, evacuation, and more.”

Queens Library will stay open, but with limited hours. Yet they’ll continue to offer access to resources including the 2020 Census along with purchasing more eBooks, audiobooks and streaming movies. They’ll also address the coronavirus by increasing the number of times the bathrooms are cleaned, increasing the cleaning of surfaces such as tabletops, door handles, and counters, and removing all toys from the children’s area of libraries.

Queens Library President Dennis Walcott said that the libraries are undergoing a difficult time, but services will continue as normally as possible.

“We are taking this step, along with the Brooklyn and New York Public libraries, to limit the number of public gatherings throughout our respective systems in an effort to help the City slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Walcott said in an emailed letter addressed to patrons. “As you can imagine, this was an extremely difficult decision. We know how much you rely on our programs and services for inspiration, knowledge, and information.”

Meanwhile, the New York Public Library is also keeping all Census resources online but won’t keep its doors open for the rest of the month. In an email, NYPL President Anthony Marx said the library will be closed through March 31.

“We made this decision to support the overall health and wellness of our communities and for the safety of our patrons and staff. It was a difficult decision, as we care deeply about serving the public, but the responsible thing to do—and the best way to serve our patrons right now—is to help minimize the spread of COVID-19,” said Marx.

Some believe that events such as Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and the coronavirus pandemic have continued to expose wounds in society regarding social inequities, hunger, poverty, and inequality. Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, believes the virus will cost millions of people, including children and the elderly.

“The other key priority should be dramatically ramping-up the home delivery of meals to older Americans, children, and families who lost income; this should be done using a combination of government and nonprofit staff, National Guard members, AmeriCorps national service participants, U.S. Census workers, and community volunteers (all of whom should be given adequate safety training and equipment),” stated Berg. “The time is now for all hands on deck to jointly combat this grave threat to the city and nation. Hunger Free America stands ready to help any way we can.”