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The U.S. Census Bureau is shifting its messaging in the wake of the increasing damage and threat of COVID-19. Instead of just reminding people to take part in the decennial count, they are reminding people they can take part in the decennial count from home.

In a series of statements in recent days, the bureau said the count will continue with some changes and people should respond online, by phone or by mail. To fill out online, citizens will need the Census ID that they should have received in the mail. 

As of Wednesday, 27% of state households as well as households in Hamilton County, have responded to the census, according to data from the bureau. Tennessee's response rate so far outpaces the national rate of 26%. The count every decade determines the allocation of $1.5 trillion of federal spending across the country, including to schools, hospitals and emergency responders.

Households throughout the region should have received their Census forms in the past two weeks. People who do not respond are likely to be visited in-person by census workers in May. However, with social distancing guidelines and the increasing number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, just how this will be done is uncertain.

On March 18, Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced field operations would be suspended until April 1 and the bureau would evaluate future operations, including how to do in-person surveys without putting workers or the public at risk.

"If we need to delay or discontinue nonresponse follow-up visits in a particular community, we will adapt our operation to ensure we get a complete and accurate count," a March 11 statement from the bureau said. Other related census surveys that are not the official count will be done by phone instead of in-person, a statement said.

The announcement comes on the heel of massive layoffs throughout the region and country as businesses shut down because of the coronavirus. The bureau's website said they are still accepting applications for temporary part-time positions, which in Hamilton County would pay $19.50 an hour. Whether those jobs will be restarted and whether the bureau will continue to hire remains unknown.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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