May 27, 2024

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Put your smartphone to work for your return to the office

By J.D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times Company

As some people head back to the office or classroom after more than 18 months of COVID-19 disruption, maintaining social distance remains a concern, especially with the highly contagious delta variant spreading nationwide. Here are a few simple suggestions for using your smartphone to help stay informed and safe if you are returning to the office or school.

Stay Informed

Regular checks of school, municipal and state websites can keep you up to date about mask mandates, vaccine requirements, quarantines and other COVID-related news. Get your facts faster by making bookmarks for these sites that you can tap open right from your home screen.

Open the page you want to bookmark. Steps will vary based on browser and phone, but if you are using the Chrome browser on an Android device, tap the More menu in the upper-right corner and choose “Add to Home Screen.” On an iOS device using the Safari browser, tap the Action menu icon at the bottom-center of the screen and choose “Add to Home Screen.”

Along with its informative website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own mobile app. For local virus news, check your app store, as many states have their own apps for tracking outbreaks, providing personal exposure notifications, supplying vaccine information and offering general news alerts.

Carry Your Card

Certain institutions, venues and employers now have a vaccine requirement, and many New York City businesses require proof and will enforce it next month. While your paper vaccination card serves as proof, you can keep it safe at home and go digital. Some states have electronic vaccination passports you can store in your phone’s digital wallet and display when asked; New York’s Excelsior Pass program is one example.

Photos of your paper vaccination card can also serve as a digital backup, and some employers may accept the images as proof of inoculation, especially in apps like NYC COVID Safe. The card contains personal information, though, so keep your phone locked when not in use. Apple’s iOS software settings offers a passcode, Face ID or Touch ID to secure the device.

Android users can also set up a screen lock in the system settings. In addition to PIN or passcode, some phone models (including those from Google and Samsung) use biometric keys, like facial recognition. For additional protection, Android users can store vaccine card pictures in a locked folder within Google Photos; just open the card image, tap the More menu and choose “Move to Locked Folder.”

Modify Your Commute

A socially distanced commute is more of a challenge for people who do not drive and walk or use mass transit to get around. Last year, both Apple and Google added coronavirus-related business information to their maps apps, and a more recent Google Maps update now shows busy areas so you can better avoid crowds.

If you want to ride off-peak trains or stroll the less-traveled path, Apple Maps and Google Maps both offer real-time transit schedules and optional walking routes. Specialized apps like Citymapper cover multiple forms of transportation including bike share and ferry. And localized transit apps (like the New York City’s MYmta for Android and iOS) can also be useful for service status and updates.

And if you are walking to work with your face in your Android phone, the “Heads Up” notifications on some models remind you to watch where you are going. Enable the feature in the Digital Wellbeing settings.

Fuel Up

When a drive-thru window is not an option for picking up your breakfast or lunch from a distance, there are other ways to minimize your exposure, like phoning in a pickup order to your local diner or bodega. Loyalty apps from convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Wawa or restaurants (McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Starbucks, to name a few) offer online ordering and mobile checkout to zip things along with minimal contact.

And do not forget contactless payment systems like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay to keep you from fumbling with physical cash and speed you through at the register or subway turnstile. (A contactless credit card from your financial institution is another option and lets you pay by tapping the card on the checkout reader.)

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