coronavirus

Apps to Help You Stay Connected, Safe During Coronavirus Pandemic

When you can't socialize with your friends in person, technology lets you do it online

NBCUniversal, Inc.

With the Centers for Disease Control recommending that no more than 10 people gather in any one place at any one time, fighting the coronavirus can be lonely and isolating--but it doesn’t have to be. 

Technology you may already have at home can make it easier to socialize despite the restrictions. Most individuals are familiar with 'Skype' and 'FaceTime,' but there are features and other apps available that can allow you to socialize with large groups of people safely.

For example, Apple’s FaceTime can do much more than just a simple video chat. Tony Marengo, founder of TheMacTutor.com said you can use it to visit with up to 32 people at a time.

“Say there are five people in a group talking,” Marengo said. “Each of the faces is visible on the phone and whoever is speaking currently, their face gets bigger and bigger until it takes up almost the whole screen of the phone.”

Some families use it to stay in touch with far-flung relatives across the country.

Brenna Nichols uses group FaceTime  to organize what she calls “virtual happy hours” with her college friends.

“It's something to look forward to,” she said during a FaceTime interview with NBC 5. “We know that we are going to see friendly, familiar faces at six o’clock and tell us the days’ stories.”

Nichols posted her idea on Instagram and is now coaching others on how to fill a screen with friends when you can’t fill the room with them. Nichols also said the happy hours also let mothers share tips and tricks as for home schooling the children now kept out of school by safety precautions.

For people on Windows, Android and other systems, Skype has been the gold standard for person-to-person video chat. The app 'House Party' is growing in popularity. It can handle up to eight people and allows for groups to do things like play games together online.

While many spending more time away from the office and inside their homes have turned to social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, a relatively new device is bringing people together in a different way. Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset includes an app that can connect family members separated by social distancing or real physical distance so that they can share experiences like movies together.

Marengo uses the device to watch movies with his father in the Chicago suburbs and his brother in St. Louis.

“I can see my dad,” Marengo said. “My dad can see my brother. We can all communicate with each other in 3D while watching a movie together on a 100-foot screen.”

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