When a virulent pandemic hits in the same year as a general election and a government-mandated head count, you get creative.
So, every person who visits the Maimonides Medical Center Emergency Room in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn is being encouraged to scan a QR code with their smartphones and tablets. It connects them to the Census 2020 website, with very little contact of other surfaces, such as pens and paper at the typical, pre-pandemic census drive.
According to Dr. Eitan Dickman Maimonides' vice-chair of the emergency department, the QR code, a square, digitized pattern that's captured by smartphone cameras and linked to web content, was ideal for a pandemic. And the hospital's own data showed that Brooklyn needed to represent.
"It allows them to quickly complete the census and provide all the information that’s requested," Dickman said. "Brooklyn as a borough has the lowest numbers in participation in the national census when compared to other locations in New York."
Maimonides officials say it's a way to get immigrants, as well as those who can't vote, civically engaged. The national, constitutionally required head count every decade determines legislative districts, congressional representation - even where banks offer loans. And of course, it determines how billions of federal spending dollars are allocated.
"Included in this is funding for health care facilities," said Dickman.
Dickman pointed out that the pandemic not only strained health care systems, it shut down the door-to-door canvassing and other forms of in-person contact used to get a more accurate headcount.
Public hospitals, such as Lincoln, are also doing Census outreach.
On top of this, Maimonides will also use a QR code for a voter registration drive.
Doctors and other staff will wear that QR code around their necks.
People will be wearing lanyards with QR codes that allow them to go to a site that allows them to rapidly register to vote.
Voter registration is typically unimpressive in the city - and that is just as true today.
The Campaign Finance Board reported last month that compared to the first six months of 2016, new voter registration this year is down an alarming 49 percent, a drop from 155,000 in the first six months of 2016 versus 79,000 as of June of this year, according to Voter Assistance Advisory committee hearing presentation from last month.
Perry Grossman, the senior staff lawyer of the Voting Rights Project for the ACLU, applauded both efforts at hospitals in the city.
"In a season where civic engagement is so important but so difficult to accomplish, every contact we can make to try and get people more involved, whether it’s voter registration or filling out the census, it really has tremendous benefits to the community," Grossman said.
An engagement he called a benefit to the city's civic health, even during a pandemic.