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Idaho's rural counties are behind on responding to the U.S. Census due to the coronavirus pandemic

The national survey is encountering an unprecedented challenge of reaching out to people for their census data during the COVID-19 outbreak.

BOISE, Idaho — The 2020 Census is facing some hurdles due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially in Idaho's rural and sparsely populated counties. However, statewide, Idaho has a 59.3% response rate among citizens as of Sunday night, which is slightly above the national average.

Jayne Black, a 2020 Census spokesperson, explained to KTVB during a FaceTime interview that the pandemic has created many unique situations for census gatherers.

“Because of the coronavirus and the stay at home orders that states have had, we are so grateful that we do have the online and the phone opportunities for people to respond,” she said. ”That has probably made a huge difference for us as a state and a country.”

Ada County, Gem County, and Canyon County lead the state in response rates, which are all about 70%. 

However, rural counties like Blaine, Valley, and Camas are well below 25%. Blaine County’s response is 22.8%, Valley County’s is 13.6%, and Camas County’s is only 6.6%.

RELATED: 'It's so critical for our state': Everything Idahoans need to know as the 2020 U.S. Census begins

Black said rural response rates are typically lower due to the fact that some of them do not have mail services delivered directly to their homes, but COVID-19 has played a role too.

“Without the COVID virus, we would go out to those communities that don't have mailboxes and hand-deliver a census form to that residence,” she said. “Typically, July 31st is when the last census form can be submitted. This year we've gotten that pushed out until October 31st.”

Black said that this extension will get census gatherers out to the homes who have not responded from August 11 to October 31.

“Thankfully we've been able to work from home,” Black said. “We're really trying to identify areas where we see low response and then we put our heads together with our partners.”

Population counts have also been delayed at universities due to campus closures. COVID-19 has also led to delays at temporary sites, like RV parks.

Idaho homeless populations have not been counted yet either.

The Census Bureau hopes to gather those responses once school is back in session and social distancing standards ease to get a more accurate count.

“It's so critical for every single Idahoan to be counted,” Black added.

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