“Social Distancing” and the Apps that are Helping Us Cope
With the terms “social distancing” and “social isolation” trending given the spread of COVID-19 here in the U.S. and throughout the world, there’s a lot to unpack in terms of how our lives have suddenly changed.
Social distancing is essential. But it’s also hard on the spirit and our overall well-being.
For those of us who’ve been at it for at least a few days, it’s become an unmistakable feeling of cabin fever.
Yet, in 2020, we have access to something that’s made life much more manageable than it would otherwise be.
Online services and apps have eased the feeling of social isolation and made it easier to keep on keepin’ on, while we all do our part to help “flatten the curve”.
Here are some apps that are making a positive societal impact and/or finding their moment in the sun.
With the sudden rise of the “WFH” (work from home) workforce and the cancellation of in-person classes at most schools around the country, this is a trend that wasn’t all that difficult to see coming.
Web conferencing providers like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx are seeing a surge in new users – at least two times normal usage, and up to 24 times more during peak hours. And users are finding that web-based video conferencing has improved in leaps and bounds, thanks to innovative new apps and much higher bandwidth connections.
While there’s obviously no perfect substitute for in-person interaction, a high-quality web conferencing solution can help fill some of that void, whether for work, school, or just keeping tabs on your loved ones.
Online Gaming and Entertainment Apps
The extended hours stuck at home and the shutdown of movie theaters and live events have ushered in a rise in digital entertainment at home.
Video games allow for some much needed escapism and social interaction at the same time. And it seems that this is very much the order of the day; the online gaming platform Steam has been seeing record-breaking numbers of users online in recent days. On the console front, both Xbox and PlayStation are also seeing a surge in traffic, forcing their respective companies to make temporary network adjustments to ensure a smooth experience for users.
Subscription-based streaming services are seeing a similar effect. Netflix recently broke all-time traffic records, and analysts say that the streaming leader could outperform its previous guidance for “new adds” by more than 40%. With entire families stuck at home at the same time, also it’s likely that a good chunk of existing subscribers will be upgrading to plans that allow more concurrent users.
Around the country, healthcare is going through a dramatic period of adjustment. Hospitals and clinics are having to deal with the additional responsibility of diagnosing and treating a growing wave of COVID-19 patients. In some cases, entire floors of hospitals are being transformed into wards specifically for COVID-19 related cases.
What do those of us with “normal” ailments not associated with COVID-19 do? If we were to go to the hospital as we’d normally do, we’d 1) reduce the staff’s bandwidth for more critical cases, and 2) risk possible infection ourselves.
Luckily, telehealth solutions like MDLive are well established and allow users to remotely “see the doctor” and even get prescriptions for common ailments. MDLive has seen its business more than double in Washington alone, since the outbreak began.
New York Presbyterian Hospital, at the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, is encouraging patients with non life-threatening issues to use its virtual urgent care services, available via Android or iOS.
As a category, telehealth is an exiting new frontier that intersects with other tech trends such as wearables (like the Apple Watch, which has a heart rate sensor and built-in EKG/ECG).
IrisVision, a CitrusBits client, is a med tech company whose CES Innovation Award-winning headset is helping those with low vision conditions like macular degeneration live independently at home, which is proving especially valuable at this time.
Around the country, restaurants have seen large declines in clientele, especially in cities with mandated closures.
In California, for example, restaurants have been forced to limit their operations to takeout/delivery. Some restaurants, including fancy fine dining joints (like this Pasadena steakhouse) that would previously have scoffed at the idea of allowing takeout/delivery, are going into the takeout/delivery business for the first time.
The consumer version of these apps (as there’s also a driver version) allow customers to find restaurants, easily order via app, pay, and then track delivery in real time.
Those who have resisted the siren’s call of online shopping now have a powerful new reason to do so: many of the physical stores are either out-of-stock of key items, have untenable crowds of shoppers, or have been closed by city/state order.
In California, New York, and other COVID-19 affected metropolitan areas, “non-essential” businesses have been forced to close.
Yet, although many stores have been closed, their direct-to-consumer counterparts remain open. For example, the City of Los Angeles says in its FAQs about the LA “Safer at Home” Order: “The Order identifies businesses that deliver goods or services directly to residences may continue to operate. But keep your social distance by staying six feet from the person delivering the item.”
Even if desired goods are available from a store that’s still operating — like a Costco, Target, or Walmart — many of us are weighing the pros (instant gratification) versus the cons (risk of infection and long lines), and choosing to look for alternative procurement methods.
Not surprisingly, many have turned to Amazon and other online retailers to get orders delivered to them. The sudden influx of new customers and increased order volume from existing customers has been putting a strain on Amazon’s normally robust and snappy fulfillment, but at least consumers are able to acquire many of the merchandise and supplies they require.
Getting Through This Together
While the times may seem bleak, we continue to see glimmers of hope around the globe and even here in the U.S.
China, which less than two months ago seemed on the verge of pandemonium, is beginning to return to normal, and the epicenter city (Wuhan) will soon be reopened. Meaningful progress is being made on the vaccine front, and private companies and individuals (like Tesla’s Elon Musk) are stepping up big-time to ramp up production of much-needed ventilators and N95 masks for healthcare workers.
As an app development agency, CitrusBits is encouraged to see the positive societal impact many mobile apps and online services are making in these times — not just to help those at the heart of the battle against COVID-19, but also the rest of us on the sidelines.
With these resources, the diligence of our leaders (CEOs, religious leaders, politicians, heads of family, etc), public health experts, medical researchers, and our own dedication to each doing our own part to reduce transmission, it won’t be long before we can once again go to the movies or bring our children to their grandparents’ houses.
Until then, see you online.