Rhea County’s current self-response rate for the 20202 Census is 54.7 percent, according to local census board officials, with the statewide self-response rate at 65.3 percent.

Rhea County Census Board Chair Jacob Ellis said that those figures represent only people who have filled out the Census online or via mail. That figure does not take into account respondents who have been visited by a Census taker, he said.

While the initial deadline for the 2020 Census was set in August as Oct. 31, federal officials sought to move the deadline up to Sept. 30; however, a federal judge recently ruled that the original deadline of Oct. 31 must be observed.

Census takers began following up with households on July 16 in a limited number of areas and added additional areas each week thereafter. Starting Aug. 9, all remaining offices began following up with households nationwide. Census takers have completed training on social distancing and safety protocols, will follow local public health guidelines and will be required to wear a face mask when conducting follow-up visits.

“America has answered the call and most households responded to the census online, by phone or by mail,” said Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham. “To ensure a complete and accurate count, we must now go door to door to count all of the households we have not heard back from. During this phase, you can still self-respond online at 2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020 or by mailing your completed questionnaire.”

Rhea County Executive and member of the Rhea County Census Board George Thacker said that participating in the census determines several factors.

“An accurate count determines several things such as federal funding, the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congressional districts,” Thacker said. “The census is important because schools, roads and so many other things that are publically funded look at the census.”

But it’s not just public services and Congressional districts that are affected by the census, Thacker said that companies seeking to call Rhea County home also look t census data to determine if the workforce can meet a company’s needs.

“Businesses also look at demographics before deciding where to expand,” Thacker said. “They do that using the census.”

Ellis said that all information collected in the census in confidential. In fact, census bureau employees can even be sentenced to five years in prison if they are convicted of releasing census information, per federal law.

Households have received an invitation to complete the census online at 2020census.gov.