A knock at the door. A stranger. In the midst of this pandemic, it’s enough to prompt panic.

But be aware: A stranger at your door during the coming weeks may be a representative of the U.S. Census Bureau — who shouldn’t be ignored. The bureau announced last week that census takers are out now, and will be through Sept. 30, visiting those who haven’t responded yet to the all-important, once-a-decade head count that’s so critical in ensuring fair elective representation and fair federal funding to local governments.

Don’t want a census worker coming to your house, whether out of concern over the coronavirus or for another reason? Then simply go to 2020Census.gov or call 844-330-2020 between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m., to get your household counted. It only takes a few minutes.

But it means $2,796 per tallied person per year in funding from D.C. for programs like student loans, food stamps, energy assistance, and highway construction. There are 55 large federal spending programs that determine, based on census figures, how much gets sent to cities like Duluth.

"Those programs impact all aspects of life. It's education, it's housing, it's food, it's transportation. Any person who lives in this community is impacted by those federal funds," city of Duluth Census Coordinator Cindy Wilson said in an interview in March with News Tribune Editorial Board members. "If we undercount, if people don't take their census, then we miss out."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

An accurate every-10-years count also means appropriate political representation, as district boundaries for elected bodies — from city council to Congress — are set according to census findings.

Locally hired census workers will make up to six attempts to count your household, the bureau said. So grab your face mask and keep a safe distance when answering the door. Census takers are trained to follow all health guidelines, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, participation in the census presents a low risk of coronavirus transmission.

You’ll know a legit census taker by the government ID badges worn — including a photo, U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and expiration date — and by the official U.S. Census Bureau phones carried. Not sure? Minnesotans can verify a census taker’s identity by calling the Chicago Region Census Center at 312-579-1500.

In Minnesota, 72.6% of us, about 1.9 million households, already have responded. So only about one in four households needs a visit. In May, the Gopher State ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in participation, and the Badger State was No. 2.

As good as we’ve done, we owe it to our community and neighbors to finish this year’s count strong — in spite of the pandemic, any nervousness over participating, and the troubling announcement that the count will be halted at the end of September, a month early. We can all consider it part of our civic duty and responsibility to avoid an undercount that threatens to skew governmental representation and the dollars we deserve.