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The U.S. Census Bureau announced Wednesday that it will suspend all field operations, including door-to-door census completion, until April 1 in an effort to help "slow the spread" of coronavirus.
The announcement comes only one week after the agency began collecting data from all U.S. households. The Census Bureau encouraged the public to respond to the questionnaire using online methods.
Census takers are slated to begin going door to door in May to collect household information from people who have not submitted their responses by that time. But the bureau said that after the two-week halt on operations, it would reevaluate the field response as it monitors the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the bureau will start making individual phone calls as necessary to collect data. To date, 11 million people have responded to the census.
The 2020 census will help determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes are allotted to each state based on its population. Data collected from the census will also help lawmakers determine how to distribute $1.5 trillion in federal spending.
"In the limited number of instances where an in-person visit is necessary, we are working closely with public health authorities to ensure each visit is accomplished safely," the Census Bureau said in a press release.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the changes to field operations "[do] not affect your ability to self-respond," and she encouraged citizens to take the census online.
"By responding now, you will ensure that the Census Bureau does not need to send a census worker to your door," Maloney said in a statement. "The Oversight Committee is closely monitoring the suspension of field operations and other developments to ensure that the Census Bureau takes all necessary steps to keep people safe while conducting a full, fair, and accurate census."