Officials in Galveston and Harris counties are shifting to digital outreach to promote responses to the 2020 census amid the coronavirus outbreak—an effort that U.S. Census Bureau officials said is imperative in order to increase Bay Area response rates.

On March 28, the census bureau announced field operations would be suspended until April 15 because of the coronavirus. In-person interviews have also been suspended, and the deadline to complete the count has been pushed back to from the end of July to mid-August.

In the meantime, census officials said efforts will focus on bringing Galveston County up to par as the county is trailing behind in terms of area responses.

Census data is used to determine how $675 billion per year in federal funding is spent. The data factors into redrawing boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts and also helps local governments plan for future community needs, from schools and libraries to emergency services and hospitals.

Galveston County has a five-member complete count committee, which most recently met March 4. The committee is staffed by the city of Galveston’s Planning & Development Division and aims to “create actionable strategies to increase awareness of and participation in the 2020 Census.”

Sarah Greer Osborne, communications and media relations director for the city of League City, said the city has been actively communicating census information via its official Facebook page and heavily pushing community participation.

The April e-edition of City Matters magazine will have census-focused information for the more than 10,000 subscribers, she added.

“Now more than ever, filling out the census is important,” she said.

Harris County advocates said they are getting ready for a major outreach effort aligned with Census Day, the day at which point each American residence will have received an invite to participate and is encouraged to begin responding.

Nabila Mansoor, who co-chairs the Harris County/Houston Complete Count Committee—a collaborative effort of city and county officials, community leaders and nonprofits dedicated to ensuring a complete count in Houston and Harris County—said advocates have shifted to digital outreach. This includes informational streaming events on social media, phone banks, email blasts and texting campaigns, all in lieu of in-person outreach such as canvassing.

Texas is 42nd out of 51 states and the District of Columbia in terms of census responses, according to data from the Census Bureau. Galveston County’s response rate as of March 28 was 26.8%, meaning that only 26.8% of the housing units have participated. The city of Galveston has an 18.7% response rate.

Ana Arredondo, who works with the Census Bureau, said that the bureau is working with the city of Galveston to distribute promotional videos and other materials that will spur increased participation.

“We want to make sure that we push people to go online or call for their answers,” she said.