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Ready, Set, Count!

A CHILLY CHALLENGE Census workers in Toksook Bay, Alaska, check their maps on January 20. GREGORY BULL—AP

On an island in Alaska, the 2020 U.S. Census is underway. Census workers started counting residents of Toksook Bay on January 21. The census happens every 10 years. It’s an official count of people living in the U.S. The first U.S. Census was in 1790.

Since Alaska became a state, in 1959, the count has started there in January. Postal service and Internet are unreliable in rural parts of the state, so workers go door to door with a questionnaire. It’s easier for them to get around when the ground is frozen.

Most people in the U.S. will get the questionnaire in March. In May, census workers will visit people who haven’t responded. “Our goal is to count everyone once, only once, and to count them in the right place,” says Steven Dillingham. He leads the U.S. Census Bureau.