Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!


This international signal of distress comes to mind every first of May. My maternal grandmother also comes to mind, because she was born on May 1, 1900, but that’s another story.


For many reasons though, most of us would much rather hear “May Day” instead of “mayday.” I call to your attention that all-important space between syllables.


The familiar call of distress has nothing to do with today’s date on the calendar. According to my “research department,” it’s a word that traces its history back to 1921 when first used by pilots flying between London and Paris. The expression was adapted from a French phrase which when translated means “help me.” It sounds similar to “mayday” in English.


For Americans, the beginning of May is hopefully a signal that our national nightmare is nearing its end — although in reality, it may be only the beginning of its end. April was pretty much a lost month, marked by days of social isolation, take-out dinners, and wondering who bought all the toilet paper.


In Texas, April began after Gov. Greg Abbott extended for the entire month a variety of orders designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.


A month ago, there was still hope schools might resume classes on May 4. Those hopes were dashed in mid-April, so commencement exercises will be postponed and/or held remotely.


A month ago, “reopen the economy” had not yet become a rallying cry.


A month ago, thousands of Americans had not yet died from the virus.


Many events that otherwise would have dominated the spotlight over the past few weeks were delayed, cancelled, or bumped to secondary importance within the 24-hour news feed because of pressing concerns about public health.


Without the coronavirus, political activity leading up to the November general elections — which includes that of president of the United States — would be in the headlines.


Without the coronavirus, hundreds of Texas entities would be preparing to vote tomorrow in city, school, and other local board elections. Those have mostly been postponed until later in the year.


And, without the coronavirus, we would have seen an extensive public service media campaign about a mandate that happens only once every 10 years.


Remember? April 1 was Census Day, when every resident of the United States is required to present themselves to be counted. Much of it is being handled online this time, just as almost every other aspect of our lives has been handled in this era of sheltering-in-place. But while most activities have been suspended while we wait for the threat of disease to subside, the Census marches on.


Our participation is crucial. The cumulative data the Census generates helps determine where more than $675 billion in government funding will be distributed. Census data gives community leaders information they need to make decisions about providing community services, attracting businesses and industries, and planning for the future. Census data is used to determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and that’s important information for a growing state like Texas.


Our households have already received mailings on how to be counted online, or by mail if we prefer. Those who don’t respond can expect to get a knock on the door by a Census representative bearing official credentials, but that phase has been delayed at least until June 1, the date in-person activities are expected to resume.


Earlier this week, the response rate in Brown County was an alarmingly low 42 percent, which trails the disappointing statewide rate of 49 percent. Nationally, the response rate is nearer 53 percent. Obviously, everyone has a way to go in order to make the 2020 Census an accurate picture of our population.


It’s not like we’ve been too busy. Everyone has been staring at their computers for weeks.


April 2020 is history, so it’s time to handle unfinished business and press forward. Just remember, the Census will affect everyone for years to come.


Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.