County Update: Commissioner Hanzlick looks at COVID-19 and the importance of the census

"Without a complete Census count, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as seniors and people with pre-existing conditions, could be disproportionately impacted," said Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick. File photo.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 4 Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, whose district includes much of central Overland Park.

Even though the pandemic and protests have taken center stage in recent weeks, it is critical to remember that we are also in the middle of a life-changing event that only happens once every ten years – the Census. In fact, the current COVID situation reminds us that an accurate population count in Johnson County ultimately helps with funding for emergencies like the one we are in now.

Federal COVID relief funds for state and local governments are most often allocated based on census population data. If we experience another wave of COVID-19 or another pandemic in the coming years, an accurate Census count may determine Johnson County’s ability to offer sufficient testing, provide support for long term care facilities, secure personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders, and respond to the needs of essential workers.

The Board of County Commissioners recently approved the use of 2020 federal COVID-19 funding to help expand the Department of Health and Environment’s epidemiology unit, which was significantly understaffed. This expansion will allow the County to better meet the ongoing need for effective disease investigation and containment.

Without a complete Census count, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as seniors and people with pre-existing conditions, could be disproportionately impacted. Of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Johnson County, 10% are Black or African American – twice the percentage of Black/African American people in the Johnson County population (5%). In addition, 18% of cases are Hispanic or Latino – more than twice the percentage of Hispanic/Latino people in the county (7%). The 2020 Census data can help ensure that Johnson County receives appropriate federal support for preventive medicine and healthcare. Access to preventive care can help reduce the preexisting conditions that have made some people more susceptible to the coronavirus.

In Johnson County, the self-response rate is nearing 75%. We are doing well, but we can do better. There are still undercounted areas in Johnson County that are trending far below the overall self-response rate. Those most often missed are people of color, children, and low-income households.

Your participation in the 2020 Census is critical to ensuring that Johnson County can face future public health threats like COVID-19. If you or someone you know has not yet responded to the Census, please visit the Census website to respond today.