Conducting a decennial census involves extensive planning and complex coordination across different operations.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau adapted and shifted some of the 2020 Census operations to protect the health and safety of the public and Census Bureau staff who interacted with them.
These adjustments were made to fulfill our Constitutional mandate to count the nation's population and deliver the results to the President and Congress.
Remote Alaska's vast, sparsely settled areas traditionally are counted before other parts of the country, in January of the decennial year. The frozen ground allows easier access to these remote villages, and local census takers can conduct census interviews with residents before the spring thaw and before many of the residents leave their villages to fish, hunt, or pursue other warm-weather jobs.
The first enumerations for the 2020 Census began as scheduled on January 21, 2020 in the remote Alaskan village of Toksook Bay. Most of the Remote Alaska interviews were completed according to the original planned schedule, though some areas with year-round populations were enumerated when it was safe to do so. The Remote Alaska operation lasted for seven months until concluding on August 27, a four-month extension due to COVID-19.
Planned Schedule: January 21 - April 30, 2020
Actual Dates: January 21 - August 27, 2020
During the Self-Response phase, residents were able to respond online, by mail, and by phone throughout the data collection period. Overall, 67 percent of households self-responded. The majority (nearly 80 percent) of households that self-responded did so online, while 18 percent returned a paper form in the mail and 2 percent responded by phone. The 2020 Census was the first census with the internet as the primary way to respond, and many households took advantage of this option.
Self-Response began as scheduled on March 12. It ended on October 15 after operating for seven months, an extension of approximately two-and-a-half months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planned Schedule: March 12 – July 31, 2020
Actual Dates: March 12 – October 15, 2020
Census takers visited nearly 6.8 million households in areas without postal service delivery. While visiting these households, the census takers updated the address and dropped off an invitation to respond to the census online along with a paper questionnaire.
Update Leave began as scheduled on March 15. After three days, the operation took a 7-week pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Update Leave resumed operations using a phased re-launch in specific areas of the country starting May 6 and was opened nationwide on June 10, ending two months later on August 10. Quality Control finished shortly afterwards on August 13.
Planned Schedule: March 15 - April 17, 2020
Actual Dates: March 15 - August 13, 2020
Census takers visited approximately 6,500 households in remote parts of northern Maine and southeast Alaska with unique accessibility challenges. Given these challenges, census takers updated the address and conducted a census interview on the initial in-person visit.
Update Enumerate began as scheduled on March 16. After two days, the operation took a three-month pause due to COVID-19. Update Enumerate resumed operations using a phased re-launch starting June 14. It became fully operational on June 22 until ending 10 weeks later on August 31.
Planned Schedule: March 16 - April 30, 2020
Actual Dates: March 16 - August 31, 2020
Each week, Census Bureau staff identified areas across the United States and Puerto Rico with low self-response rates and established Mobile Questionnaire Assistance events to assist people with questions they had about the 2020 Census. Through these events, people could also receive assistance submitting their 2020 Census questionnaire online. These events were at locations where people frequently visit when leaving home, such as grocery stores.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MQA timeline was shifted by approximately three-and-a-half months. It began with a soft launch on July 6 in certain areas of the country. By July 13, MQA was fully operational, and it continued for three months until concluding on October 15.
Planned Schedule: March 24 - July 31, 2020
Actual Dates: July 6 - October 15, 2020
Through the NRFU operation, census takers conducted in-person interviews to enumerate households that had not yet responded online, by mail, or by phone. Overall, 67 percent of households self-responded, and 33 percent were enumerated through NRFU.
Due to COVID-19, the start of NRFU was shifted by approximately three months to mid-July. With this later start, the Early NRFU operation, designed to reach college students before the end of the spring semester, was no longer carried out. Given this change, the NRFU operation began with a soft launch on July 16 in specific areas of the country. By August 9, NRFU was being conducted nationwide, and it continued for nearly 2 more months until October 15 when all in-field data collection ended. In-office processing continued through October 28.
Planned Schedule: April 9 – July 31, 2020
Actual Dates: July 16 – October 28, 2020
The Census Bureau enumerated people living in group living arrangements, such as correctional facilities for adults, university student housing, and military quarters. Group quarters administrators submitted census responses using the online eResponse portal or by mail. Census takers also visited locations to enumerate the remaining group quarters in person.
Group Quarters began as scheduled on April 1 and continued for five months until August 26. Quality Control continued for one more week, ending on September 3. This timeline represents a one-month extension due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planned Schedule: April 1 - July 31, 2020
Actual Dates: April 1 - September 3, 2020
As part of the Group Quarters operation, census takers worked with service providers to count people experiencing homelessness at places like soup kitchens, shelters, regularly scheduled food vans, as well as pre-identified outdoor locations such as parks and under bridges.
The start of Service-Based Enumeration was shifted by approximately six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It began on September 22 and continued for eight days, ending on September 29.
Planned Schedule: March 30 – April 1, 2020
Actual Dates: September 22 - September 29, 2020
Census takers counted people living in transitory locations such as campgrounds, RV parks, racetracks, circuses, marinas, and hotels.
The start of the enumeration at transitory locations shifted by nearly five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The operation began on August 31 and ended one month later on September 29.
Planned Schedule: April 9 - May 4, 2020
Actual Dates: August 31 - September 29, 2020
The Census Bureau enumerated people living in the U.S. territories of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In partnership with the government of each of these Island Areas, local census takers conducted in-person interviews using a “long form” census questionnaire, which gathered additional information that met the specific data needs of these Island Areas.
The Island Areas Censuses began as scheduled on February 3 with the listing of addresses of all living quarters. In mid-March 2020, all Island Areas took a brief pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collection resumed on May 25 in CNMI and the week of June 1 in the other Island Areas. In Guam, the operation took an additional pause on August 21 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Once the government of Guam allowed data collection to restart two weeks later, enumerators were restricted from conducting in-person interviews and were directed to only complete interviews by telephone. Both enumeration and quality control concluded for all Island Areas by November 3, a four-month extension due to COVID-19.
Planned Schedule: February 3 – June 30, 2020
Actual Dates: February 3 – November 3, 2020
As the first deliverable from the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau releases the population counts for all 50 states. These counts are used to determine how many representatives from each state will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives - a process called "apportionment." The statutory deadline to provide apportionment counts is December 31, 2020.
Due to the various operational timeline shifts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau delivered the apportionment counts on April 26, 2021.
Planned Schedule: December 28, 2020
Actual Dates: April 26, 2021
The Census Bureau delivers population counts and demographic data to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to aid the states in redrawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries—a process known as “redistricting.” The statutory deadline to provide redistricting data was March 31, 2021.
Due to the various operational timeline shifts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau provided the redistricting data in a legacy format on our public FTP site on August 12, 2021 and delivered the same redistricting data in an easier-to-use format to the states and the public on September 16, 2021.
Planned Schedule: February 18 - March 31, 2021
Actual Dates: August 12 and September 16, 2021