The U.S. Census Bureau has temporarily suspended all field operations for the 2020 census in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said Wednesday field operations will be suspended until at least April 1 to try to help stop the spread of the virus.

He said the step was necessary to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees and everyone going through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions.

Dillingham anticipated that census takers would still be able to begin visiting households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census in May. But the agency will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments, he added.

Last week, the agency mailed out invitations to participate. Dillingham said Wednesday that more than 11 million households already have responded.

“America is stepping up to shape our future and ensure families and communities are counted,” Dillingham said. “The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online.”

Census forms can be filled out using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. People can also respond by phone or mail.

Data from the 2020 Census will determine how the federal government distributes about $800 billion over the next decade to states and cities for critical services including hospitals, schools, emergency response services and road maintenance.

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