By VOA News

The U.S. has extended the deadline for the 2020 census count by two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic, just days after the government suspended census field operations for two weeks as well.

The decennial counting of everyone in the U.S. helps determine congressional representation in the 50 U.S. states, and it also guides the federal government in how to share $1.5 trillion in federal in aid.

Two days after the Census Bureau said it would end ongoing field operations until April 1, bureau field operations director Tim Olson said its door-knocking operation would be extended from July 31 to Aug. 14 to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most U.S. residents were able to begin responding to the 2020 census last week when the bureau’s my2020census.gov website became operational and people began getting participation notices by mail.

Bureau decennial program associate director Al Fontenot said 18.6 million households had answered the questionnaire as of Friday, primarily online. There are about 120 million households in the U.S., according to the bureau.

The bureau also postponed by one month its count of the homeless, a campaign that was set to launch at the end of March.

The bureau had hoped to hire up to a half-half million temporary workers, mainly for its door-knocking campaign, but officials said Friday additional workers may have to be hired because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Federal law requires the bureau to submit final state population figures to the president by Dec. 31. Fontenot said, “We don’t want to attempt to forecast what will happen in the future” when asked Friday whether the bureau would meet the deadline.”

The accuracy of the 2020 count is facing threats, partially because of fear among many immigrants about providing information to the federal government. The Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to add a question asking respondents if they are U.S. citizens, inciting fear in Latino and immigration communities that the responses could be used against them.

The bureau’s postponements may not adversely affect the tally in the short-term, but ongoing disruptions would “increase the risk of the census results that won’t be acceptably accurate or fair,” said former congressional census chief Terri Ann Lowenthal.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights applauded the bureau’s decision to extend the census count, saying it would enhance outreach and participation.