The Census Bureau is on the lookout for places the place new staff could be sworn in, »Albuquerque Journal
Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in New Mexico, the US Census Bureau has started talks about holding events to officially summon thousands of New Mexicans to join the office later this month.
Convention centers are some of the locations that are being considered, officials from the centers told the Journal. The office has insisted that the events be safe.
The office is preparing for its follow-up operation that will see thousands of census takers going door-to-door over the next month. As part of the hiring process, incoming employees are required to take a lifetime oath to protect census responses, and the oath must be taken in person. Meanwhile, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered a ban on large gatherings.
Jose Garcia, general manager of the Albuquerque Convention Center, said he and the office had discussed plans to add thousands of employees to the convention center. The workers are sworn in over several days.
“You won’t have 1000 people here at once,” he said. “It will be a much smaller fraction of that.”
Garcia said staff would practice social distancing and wear masks in the convention center.
Similar plans were discussed in Santa Fe. Randy Randall, Santa Fe tourism director, said his office was in discussions with the office about hosting an employee swearing-in ceremony to coincide with the Albuquerque event.
He also said he did not know how many employees would be sworn in.
“I heard a total of 2,000 people in a few days,” Randall said. “In any case, there wouldn’t be more than 200 at any gathering.”
Garcia and Randall said their community centers were not officially selected, but that their locations could safely host staff if they were selected.
“It’s just as safe as a grocery store, home depot, or restaurant,” said Garcia. “Probably safer.”
The state has occupancy restrictions for many businesses, including grocery stores, hardware stores, and restaurants. Cases of COVID-19 have recently increased in New Mexico – along with many other states – with the Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties increasing noticeably.
Mercy Alarid, the senior partnership specialist for the New Mexico office, said thousands of New Mexicans from across the state will be sworn in at these events, but no locations have been confirmed.
But those familiar with the swearing-in told the Journal that officials at the office nearly confirmed the Albuquerque Convention Center as one of the locations.
She also declined to say which sites are still under consideration.
“We want to protect our employees,” said Alarid. “We don’t want to reveal anything we do to make sure our employees are protected.”
Alarid did not specify how employees would be compromised by posting a list of potential host sites.
Alarid, Garcia and Randall told the Journal that the state government was aware of the planned event and would allow it during Lujan Grisham’s ban on large gatherings, which includes some exceptions.
However, Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, said in a written statement that the governor cannot control the actions of a federal agency such as the Census Bureau.
“The governor’s office knows that the US Census Bureau was hoping to hold training events in New Mexico,” she wrote.
The state has denied a similar request from the bureau to hold the state property swearing-in events, Sackett said.
Time is short in both convention centers to prepare to host thousands of people over a few days at the end of July. Randall said it would take him at least 10 days to prepare for such a large crowd during the pandemic.
“We are on the edge of time when it is the appropriate planning time,” he said. “We have to move on soon.”
Once the swearing-in events are complete, workers will begin interviewing residents who did not respond to the census. The interview period runs from August 11th to October 31st. How many employees the office has remains unclear.
Alarid said the Census Bureau had enough staff but declined to give a specific number.
“We don’t share that with the media,” she said. “We just don’t do it. This is internal information for us. “
Home to a number of Native American communities and rural towns with non-traditional addresses, New Mexico is considered one of the hardest states to count for the census.