01 US census 2020
Washington CNN  — 

The Census Bureau announced Wednesday that it is suspending its 2020 field operations for two weeks to protect the health of its employees and the public as the US battles the coronavirus pandemic.

The bureau said it would resume operations on April 1 and that during the hiatus it will continue to “evaluate” its operations to see if “additional adjustments” need to be made.

“The Census Bureau is taking this step 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,” the agency said in a statement.

The move adds to a growing list of local, state and national events and operations that have been canceled or postponed amid the pandemic, which has spread to all 50 states and resulted in at least 125 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, according to state and local health agencies, governments and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While this year’s decennial head count relies more heavily on collecting responses by phone, mail or online, it still needs an army of people to go knock on doors and interact with the public. And though it’s early, interviews and anecdotal reports have suggested that compared with previous years, the Census Bureau is behind on hiring workers due, in part, to fears of exposure to the virus.

In its statement on Wednesday, the bureau continued to urge people to respond online.

“The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and can also respond by phone or mail,” the bureau said.

As of February 29, the Census Bureau was paying 23,610 temporary workers. Around this time in 2010, it had about 145,000 temporary workers. While it plans to hire fewer than half the 1.2 million workers it needed in 2010, nonprofit groups that help recruit workers for the census told CNN the current pace of hiring suggests a bigger problem may be at play.

Half a dozen Census Information Centers in states hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, including California and New York, had previously told CNN they were concerned about planned person-to-person outreach efforts and said they needed more specific guidance during the pandemic.

The Census Bureau had set up an internal Covid-19 task force that it said is regularly updating its pandemic response plan based on guidance from local, state and federal authorities, according to Michael Cook, a spokesman for the bureau.

CNN’s Tara Subramaniam, Vivian Salama, Holmes Lybrand and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.