About 23 percent of Blaine County households have responded to the 2020 U.S. Census so far, giving the Wood River Valley a census response rate much lower than Idaho’s rate as a whole.

Census organizers say that’s not surprising, considering the circumstances.

In much of the county, census questionnaires are delivered door-to-door rather than mailed out, according to a map on the U.S. census web site. But the spread of COVID-19 meant that door-to-door operations were put on hold—until this week.

Coronavirus “has had an impact, especially in areas that do not receive home mail delivery,” said Jeff Enos, deputy regional director for the census. “But now we’ve been given the opportunity to return to the field.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Sun Valley and Ketchum had the lowest response rates in Blaine County, with rates of 6 percent and 11 percent, respectively. A larger share of people had responded in Bellevue, Carey and Hailey, with Hailey boasting the highest rate at 39 percent. But that portion is still significantly lower than Idaho’s overall rate of 60 percent. In Boise, where home mail delivery is widespread, just over 70 percent of people have responded.

Technically, someone who has not received a questionnaire and the identification number that comes with it can respond to the census online—and many Blaine County residents without questionnaires have, but filling out the form online without an ID number means jumping through a few more hoops on the census website, a complication that may deter some people.

Before the pandemic hit, local census organizers had planned to hold a number of public events to help people fill out the census online, including senior citizens who may not be able to complete the form without assistance. Those plans also fell through once coronavirus hit Idaho.

“We had all these strategies and then COVID came,” said Wendy Jaquet, who lives in Blaine County and serves as co-chair of the state’s census committee.

Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she hopes local census organizers will be able to hold such events later in the summer, if social distancing orders allow it.

The large number of P.O. boxes in the Wood River Valley “requires a community to do extra outreach, which we started doing and have continued to do,” McCleary said.

On Wednesday, door-to-door operations resumed in Idaho, with social distancing and sanitation measures in place. Census workers are wearing masks and gloves, Enos said, and can drop off a questionnaire on someone’s doorstep without knocking on their door or making contact.

Field operations in Idaho should wrap up in about three weeks, Enos said, and census organizers anticipate “a big jump” in responses over the next month.

The deadline for responding has been extended through the end of October in light of COVID-19, giving Idahoans an additional three months to respond by phone, mail or online.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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