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The apps you need when you live in NYC (especially in the Covid era)

By Austin Havens-Bowen | October 12, 2020 - 2:30PM 

There are many apps that make navigating life in NYC easier. Most have adapted to the Covid era.


These days there are apps for just about everything: food delivery, neighborhood networking, and now, Covid-19 contact tracing. When you live in New York City, especially during a pandemic, it’s good to know which apps can make your life a bit easier—and safer.

Apps are constantly changing (have you updated your phone recently?) and that remains true in the Covid era. Food delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats now have a contactless delivery option and ride-sharing apps like Uber have suspended pooled rides. Some apps now allow you to round up your change to be donated to organizations helping with Covid-19 relief. And, there are new apps developed in response to Covid-19 like Covid Alert NY, which keeps you informed of infection rates in your neighborhood.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in October 2019. We are presenting it again with updated information for October 2020.]

Keep reading for our picks of apps that you need to download to make life in New York City as easy as possible in these uneasy times. (Want more apps? Brick Underground has rounded up transit apps to help you navigate the city like a pro, and rental apps that help find your next place in NYC.) If you’re using an app to order or buy something, make sure you tip the delivery person or driver well—they’re out there so you don’t have to be and deserve the extra support.

Stay on top of Covid-19

Covid-19 has changed almost all facets of life, so being on top of infection rates in your neighborhood and having a quick way to determine if you might have been exposed to the virus can help prevent spreading it. And of, course, there are apps for that. Apple launched the Apple Covid-19 app in partnership with CDC, which allows you to screen yourself for Covid and gives you recommendations on what to do next based on your results. New York State launched Covid Alert NY, which shares current infection rates across the state and has a feature that will alert you if you’ve spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of someone who tests positive for Covid-19 if they also have the app, you both had Bluetooth enabled, and they allow their results to be shared.

Connect with your neighbors and neighborhood

You’re probably spending a lot more time in your neighborhood these days, so it’s good to know what’s happening around your block and connect with neighbors who can help you or you can help during these uncertain times. NextDoor is a social media platform for your block—you can only read and post about topics happening around the neighborhood you designate. Cinch, which is only available in some Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens neighborhoods, connects you with local businesses by providing deals and discounts—there's also a wallet feature that allows you to pay via the app and lets you earn rewards. 

Know what’s going on around NYC (and the world) 

There’s a lot going on in the world these days so you probably want to be aware of the latest Covid developments or what’s happening in the presidential election. New Yorkers are lucky to have a bunch of choices for local news, although not as many as there used to be (RIP, DNAinfo), but still more than many other cities. For news apps, check out Patch (you get hyper-local news specific to your neighborhood), Apple News (you can choose what topics you want to get news alerts for and there’s Apple+, a paid subscription that gives you access to tons of publications), Flipboard, and of course New York Daily News, New York Post, and The New York Times

Be aware of nearby crime 

The city is certainly not as dangerous as it was decades ago, when Times Square was seedy and not so family-friendly, but crime has gone up in certain parts of the city. There’s Neighbors by Ring, which uses activity recorded by residents’ Amazon’s Ring Video Doorbell Pro and uploads it to the app for neighbors to see, and the crowdsourced app Citizen, which alerts you of any nearby crime. Fair warning: You'll get a ton of notifications once you download these apps, and it can be a little disturbing to find out about all the crimes going on seemingly all around you. 

Get your food, booze, and groceries delivered

New York City is a foodie’s dream, so when you move to a new neighborhood, it’s essential to check out your options are, especially locally-owned restaurants that could use your support during the pandemic. There’s a ton of food delivery apps out there, including the granddaddy Seamless and also Postmates, where you can have more than just food delivered, plus Caviar and Uber Eats. For booze, your local wine and liquor ship might have their own app, but you can also download Minibar and Drizly to get alcohol delivered to your front door. If you’re feeling generous, you can round-up your change and Seamless will donate the change to local organizations who support local restaurants and delivery drivers during the pandemic. 

Going grocery shopping isn’t quite the same right now. It might not be as bad as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, but you still might have to wait in line to get into the grocery store or find your store is sold-out on certain items. If you don’t have time to deal with lines, or you’re high risk and prefer to stay inside, apps like Instacart and Fresh Direct will bring your groceries to your front door. They also have implemented contactless delivery because of Covid.

Sometimes ride-sharing is your best bet 

There are a lot of transportation options in NYC and the subways are being cleaned now more than ever, but if you’re an essential worker who wants to avoid a crowded train during rush hour, or you’re traveling between hard-to-reach places (like if you live in Brooklyn and are dating someone in Queens), ride-sharing is your best bet. Uber and Lyft are two of the most popular ride-sharing apps in NYC, and they all have Covid guidelines for you and your driver (your Uber driver will probably be separated by a sheet of plastic). You will be required to wear a face mask.

—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Virginia K. Smith


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