How to I enumerate safely in a time of COVID-19?
July 21, 2020 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to start training soon as a door-to-door Census enumerator in the Seattle area. The Census is important, and am eager to do what I can -- but I want to be safe. (This is in the context of COVID, and isn't about being bitten by a dog or other risks enumerators had in past years.)

How do I know what "safe" is, these days? What questions do I need answered by my supervisors? How do I evaluate if this is a job I can do safely? I know they'll have a lot about COVID in the training, but I'd like to head in with an idea of what I should be looking for.
posted by The corpse in the library to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
This is both not related to Corona/COVID, and a direct result of the pandemic: As a door-to-door ambulator, you're likely to have a harder time finding and accessing public restrooms. Fewer places are open, and those that're only doing take-out/delivery may not welcome even paying customers, much less a census-taker doing the peepee-dance.

For a while there, when nothing was open, outside activity was limited, for many, by bathroom access-- how far away could you go from your home, for example. KC has a lot of places open now, including gas station bathrooms, but most common restaurants still have their doors closed.

So, however you might normally manage that, you have to do it differently, including, likely, begging the forbearance of a member of the enumerated household.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:28 AM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just have to say, as a fellow King County resident, it's been literally months since I opened the door when someone knocked. The probability that I'd let a stranger into my house to use the restroom is identically zero. Make preparations that assume that isn't happening.

In general I'd expect this job to be a whole lot of walking and not very much talking. I'm frankly shocked they're hiring door-to-door anything in These Times.
posted by potrzebie at 11:29 AM on July 21, 2020 [16 favorites]

Consider buying N95 masks and wearing gloves. There was a big anti-glove hoo-ha, but gloves protect *you*. It's hard for people to who already don't hear well to hear through a mask; learn to speak up, not mumble, and be expressive. I'd wear an undershirt and loose shirt and pants, get home and the outer layer goes right in a washer or basin of water & deterg at the door as I headed to a shower.

You will be outside a lot. Keep car windows open as much as possible, that really improves circulation. Sunshine and air are bad for Covid. Wipe the door handles, shift lever, etc., with soapy wipes. (over time, alcohol-based wipes might crack vinyl?) Wipes can be washed and re-used a few times, if you want to save plastic. You'll have a backpack or something, so carry wipes and hand sanitizer. I had a hard time getting hand sanitizer initially, so I have a foamy pump bottle of hand soap and a couple squirt bottles of water in the car, which works fine for hand washing. I think I'd have a crate in the car for sanitizing stuff, to prioritize it and make it easy to restock

You will likely not spend significant time with any particular individual, which is good. It appears that increased time with a contagious individual increases risk correspondingly.

Peeing in a car: Open window 1 inch, use clothespins of binder clips to attach fabric to window and make a tent in the vehicle. Or tuck it in the window and close the window on the fabric to secure it. It can be useful to put several newspapers on the back seat, just in case(less obstruction in back seats). If you sit to pee, pull on a skirt with an elastic waist, which provides lots of coverage, no obstruction. Pee in a wide-mouth water bottle; thrift stores always have many. Tissue goes in a baggie. Bottle is emptied in sewer grate or grassy area. A not clear bottle is more discreet. Make it your job to poop at home.

Census work is important; thank you.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Gloves aren't really helpful for Covid other than perhaps if they remind you not to touch your face, or if you won't have access to handwashing or hand sanitizer before you need to touch something that needs to stay clean. The virus can't be absorbed through your hands, it needs to get somewhere like your eyes or mouth first. If you're like most people who don't routinely wear gloves, it's easy for them to give you a false sense of security so you're less cautious about touching things - both potentially contaminated objects and objects that you'll touch with bare hands later like your phone - making gloves actually more harmful for you in that scenario than not wearing gloves at all. Similarly, gloves must be removed and discarded correctly to avoid transferring whatever's on them to your hands. For almost all situations, hand washing is best instead, and hand sanitizer whenever that's not possible. And of course it's best if you can avoid touching things in the first place (like maybe use a pen or something to ring the doorbell and avoid touching that end afterwards). That's my own approach, as someone who is both pretty cautious about Covid and very familiar with wearing gloves in a lab.

It'll be tricky to avoid cross-contaminating your car if you're in and out of it all day. It's probably easiest to just consider it contaminated all the time, try not to touch your face all day, and wash up well when returning home, maybe change and shower for extra caution. Alternatively you could try to be consistent about hand sanitizing every single time before getting in your car, or using a new pair of gloves for each house, but that could get pretty hard on your skin if you're visiting many houses in one day.

In addition to restrooms being less available than usual, they're definitely a contamination risk (lingering droplets in the air and surfaces). I would avoid them if at all possible, while understanding that you may not have any alternatives - if so I'd definitely wear a mask, of course wash your hands very well after, avoid touching the door on the way out, and pop in the shower right after getting home.

Note: I also am not opening my door to anyone right now, even delivery people. I wait until they back off the steps before opening the door. I'm not sure what the laws are around the census in the US but be prepared for some people to be similarly uncooperative (sorry).
posted by randomnity at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Not a direct answer, but a tip that may be useful:
If you can use a smartphone with a voice-to-text app, that might help you communicate with people who would in more normal times rely on lip reading.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:22 PM on July 21, 2020

Response by poster: I hadn't considered the bathroom issue, so thanks for pointing that out. I won't be going into a stranger's house under any circumstances, and I refuse to pee in my car. If anyone knows what the law is about access to bathrooms for people who don't work in one set place -- maybe the term is "mobile crews"? -- I'd be interested in knowing it. I see this about "reasonable access" but what does that mean these days?
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:55 PM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Washington State Department of Health offers a variety of resources that may be helpful, e.g.

Conducting Field Site Visits during the COVID-19 Outbreak: Guidance for Public Health Inspectors [pdf] (Washington DOH)

Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations (Washington DOH)

For more information, there is also the Washington State Department of Health novel coronavirus call center: 1-800-525-0127 and press #
posted by katra at 10:30 PM on July 21, 2020

I wouldn't worry obessively about your car, because I feel like the chance of I touched COVID elsewhere, went to my car, put COVID on some surface, and then picked it back up from my car then touched my face and contracted it is much less likely than I touched COVID,
then touched my face and now I have it sequence (which is considered unlikely at this point as common mode of transmission). Ideally you would be doing some sort of hand hygiene prior to entering your car , either with hand sanitizer or some way to wash your hands with soap and water. And, if you have COVID, cleaning your car won't do you any good because it's replicating inside of you, not on your dashboard.

Get masks. Because you are going to people homes, and everyone should be counted you will be interacting with people who are medically vulnerable who may be choosing not to leave their homes at all. You are the vector in this situation to them. You need to be monitoring yourself for symptoms and NOT going to work if you are concerned period.

Wearing a mask appropriately is important. Do you know how to wear an N95(if available)? Have you ever been fit tested? Do you know how to properly put one on and take one off?

As home quartintine isn't public information you should assume based on the current infection rate in your location a certain percentage of those homes will have an COVID infection. Are you okay with that?

Gloves are useful if you are mindful, but likely not necessary if you do appropriate hygiene. I suggest making it a habit to use have sanitizer before any encounter and immediately after without thinking about it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:22 AM on July 22, 2020

The above information about a car only is applicable if you are one person to a vehicle . Of you are sharing a car with friends, family or Coworkers, clean it good!
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:23 AM on July 22, 2020

Could you have a sign saying you're Census and what you're asking the door-answerer to do, namely "step outside to talk"? Personally I would be happy to open my door to someone (masked obviously) standing back from from my door and showing me that, signaling in words and actions that you're not trying to stand in my doorway or otherwise be sketchy.

I don't know how hard you're being asked to try to "get through" to a given house, but I hope it's that if they shake their head you move on. Yes, Census, but right now people may have very good reasons to say no.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:04 PM on July 22, 2020

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