The Best (and Iffy) Coronavirus Apps to Keep You Informed

The coronavirus has given people even more reason to camp out on their couches and fiddle with their phones (just make sure to wipe ’em down). Developers have seized on the moment with a bevy of coronavirus-related apps, but in an attempt to tamp down on misinformation, Apple announced on Saturday that it would only be accepting apps from “recognized entities” such as government and health-focused organizations, well-known health care companies, or medical or educational institutions. The company is also removing coronavirus games from the App Store. A search for “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” reveals that the only apps now available are support-focused social networks and informational resources. Here’s a quick look at some coronavirus-related apps that might help you stay informed and pass the time.

COVID-19 Tracker
The cloud-based patient information network HealthLynked released the COVID-19 Tracker app that combines this user-reported data with official reports from the World Health Organization to create a pointillist representation of the virus’s spread. The app’s centerpiece map has dots colored according to infection status: red and black for WHO-confirmed cases and deaths, blue for asymptomatic users, yellow for users who exhibit possible symptoms of the coronavirus but have not yet been tested, and pink for confirmed cases. The major problem: There’s no way to verify user reports. The app also features running tallies for infections, recoveries, and deaths, as well as a news story feed and a chat room that looks like it’s mostly been overrun by trolls.

If you’re going to download any resource for the coronavirus, your best bet is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s app. It’s essentially the agency’s website in app form, and it features up-to-date notices and advice on what to do to keep yourself safe and steps to follow if you think you have the virus. There’s also a map that the CDC updates at noon every weekday that tracks confirmed cases in each state, so it’s more trustworthy than COVID-19 Tracker’s map. This is undoubtedly your best app option for reliable information as rumors and false information run amok.

Helponymous functions like a message board where people discuss their coronavirus anxieties and ask for advice. The app allows users to pick from 10 avatars, such as Moki, Jinto, or Zink, all designed to look like cartoon characters from a jaunty Yo Gabba Gabba spinoff.

The chats mostly consist of people talking out their coronavirus fears. It’s a little jarring to see a character that looks like a purple muffin grapple with its parents’ mortality, but it makes sense that the commiseration and communal consoling could bring people solace during this time, but with more anonymity than Facebook or even Reddit. Some of the advice and news-related discussions can veer into conspiracy theory territory, such as one that posited the government had engineered the virus. But most of the time, the app’s users are nervous people sharing Bible verses and personal stories.

Plague Inc.
Although it was released in 2012 and doesn’t reference COVID-19, this mobile game has seen a resurgence in popularity during this crisis, so much so that more than 130 million players crashed its website. The strategy-based game’s goal is to help a pathogen spread as quickly as possible throughout the world. The version I played had me using social media and fascist figures to disseminate fake news that will abet the illness. The premise may seem a bit distasteful at the moment—Chinese officials removed the game from the country’s App Store—but it’s a thoughtful simulation that helps players conceptualize our current pandemic and, perhaps, offers a glimmer of hope. As Slate’s Daniel Schroeder wrote, “It’s always invigorating to win at Plague Inc., watching the population tick down to zero—but failure is the most thrilling outcome of all. Each time the computer beats me, I’m reminded of the ways humanity can survive a biological apocalypse.”