James Bareham for Recode/Vox
How to stay informed and entertained during the Covid-19 crisis.
So the coronavirus pandemic has you sitting around your house with very little to do and few places you’re allowed to go. It’s not the best setup, but it doesn’t have to be the worst, either. As a wise woman once said, you can spend this time “looking at apps.”
That Kim Kardashian tweet was later deleted, but the point stands: Apps can be your friend during this pandemic. There are Covid-specific apps that allow you to help scientists and researchers stay up to date on the latest coronavirus news, and to check your symptoms and recommend if you should be tested for the virus or not. Some apps that have been around longer than the pandemic can also improve your mind and body. So here’s a guide to help you get started looking at apps.
Several apps have sprung up to keep the public informed about the pandemic. Apple recently debuted its coronavirus information clearinghouse, which it developed in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the White House coronavirus task force. The app is a pretty simple screening tool, allowing you to enter your symptoms and then recommending if you should seek medical care based on them. It also has guides for things like social distancing. Apple also worked with Stanford University to build an app just for first responders in California’s Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, which has information and a symptom checker, the goal being that the user will get tested at Stanford Health Care.
Google has an educational website about the virus, though it’s not quite what President Trump advertised a few weeks back. There is no accompanying app as of yet, but Google’s wide reach into seemingly every facet of our lives means its website has everything from basic information about the virus to YouTube video guides for exercising and cooking in your home.
The CDC and the World Health Organization have apps, too. They’re not coronavirus-specific (although the WHO is currently working on one), but they do, obviously, have information about the virus and the latest guidelines. The CDC’s app also gives you its latest stats on cases in the country. What’s more useful is the Healthynked Covid-19 tracker, which has coronavirus newsfeed and uses WHO data to map out cases (you can also report your own case to be included on the map). There’s also a chat feature for “real-time chat,” which might come in handy if you’re especially lonely. And don’t forget to check out your insurance company or care provider’s mobile apps — many have added coronavirus information and symptom checker sections.
Several companies and researchers are hoping that crowdsourcing will help them gain insights about the virus, how it spreads, whether preventive measures such as social distancing are effective, and how it affects different demographics. These apps typically ask users to check in every day to report how they feel and if they have any symptoms. Be sure to read each app’s privacy policies before you download or use them, especially since some of them ask for a good amount of personal data.
The most popular of these is COVID Symptom Tracker, which initially launched in the United Kingdom and recently came to the United States. It’s currently one of the top medical apps in Apple’s App Store and boasts more than 500,000 installs on Google Play. The How We Feel Project is similar but less popular. Other health organizations have symptom tracker websites, such as Boston Children’s Hospital’s COVID Near You and regional efforts like Stop COVID NYC from Mount Sinai and the University of Alabama Birmingham’s HelpBeatCOVID19.
There’s also the Kinsa smart thermometer’s app, which wasn’t designed to track coronavirus cases but has become a predictor of where the virus might break out next — according to Kinsa, anyway — based on the atypically high number of fevers that suddenly appear. You don’t need to own a Kinsa thermometer to use the app, which also gives general health advice and recommendations for when you should see a doctor.
If you can’t see a doctor in person, there are a variety of telemedicine apps available. The Department of Health and Human Services has temporarily relaxed HIPAA laws to allow apps such as FaceTime and Skype to be used for virtual doctor appointments. That said, you’re best off using a dedicated, HIPAA-compliant app like Amwell, Teledoc, or Doctor on Demand.
Your doctor’s office or health insurance provider may have its own telehealth apps (speaking of health insurance, make sure yours covers telehealth services before you use them). Still have questions? Check out our guide to teleheath as well as this Vox guide to finding a virtual therapist.
Physical and mental health
It’s easy to feel down and anxious when you’re stuck inside during a pandemic. We’ve already covered some of the mental health apps and digital tools, from chatbots to crisis lines to apps that say they will connect you with a licensed therapist who offers virtual sessions. None of these tools are meant to be a substitute for in-person therapy sessions, but finding one of those right now is next to impossible depending on where you live.
Meditation is a great stress reliever, too. There are a ton of meditation apps out there, including Calm and Headspace, which recently introduced a dedicated section just for New Yorkers (though it’s probably fine to use no matter where you live). Many of these also offer sounds and songs to help lull you to sleep. You can also try dedicated sleep sound apps like Relax Melodies and Slumber. White noise apps are great to either drown out your loud neighbors who are always home now or help you snooze (or both).
While you may not be able to go to your real gym, a place that’s a big source of anxiety relief for many, there are apps that will mimic the experience while you try to sweat it out in your living room. Vox has a good roundup of those here. Yoga apps like Glo, Daily Yoga, and Yoga Studio bridge the gap between mindfulness and working out. If you’re allowed to get outside to exercise, apps like Fitbit (which is temporarily offering some of its premium features for free) are a good way to remind you to take a walk and keep track of your steps, so you can play catch-up at the end of the day if you haven’t met your daily goal. And there are running apps from Map My Run to Zombies, Run! that will help you get moving.
Finally, there is no better stress relief than fun. For some people, having fun is not an option right now. But if it is for you, there are the very timely and popular Pandemic: The Board Game, Dominion, and group chats and activities (you might want to read this before you use Zoom).
So there you have it: apps for you to not only look at but also use and hopefully benefit from. You may be largely restricted to your home’s four walls, but that small device in the palm of your hand can make your world seem a little bigger.
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