If your town is partly closed or you’re wary of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, it might feel as if your phone’s map app is just sitting there gathering digital dust. But even if you’re not tapping Apple’s Maps or Google Maps to explore an exotic vacation spot or to belt out turn-by-turn directions on a long road trip this summer, your interactive travel aid can be useful. Here are a few things you can do.
Find what’s open or closed
Major U.S. cities have been in varying stages of closure for months, and it may be hard to remember which businesses are open. While a local government’s website should have general guidelines posted, both the iOS Maps app from Apple and Google Maps (for Android and iOS) have been updating their map labels and listings pages for specific businesses to note adjusted hours, any curbside pickup service and temporary closures.
But what if you find outdated details? In Apple’s Maps app, tap the name of the business on the map and, when its information page opens, scroll down and tap Report an Issue; you can report other cartographic issues by tapping the encircled “i” in the top-right corner of the map itself. In Google Maps, select a business and scroll down on its information page to the “Suggest an edit” option.
Many dining establishments have struggled during the pandemic, as some have stayed open with reduced service while others have been forced to close. Apple’s Maps app often notes temporary or permanent closures and operating hours on its Yelp-assisted restaurant listings pages. As part of its COVID-19 updates, Google now adds a line on a restaurant’s info page that lists the status of dine-in, takeout and delivery service.
Like Google Maps, Apple’s Maps includes the restaurant’s phone number and website for details straight from the source. Use this contact information to confirm current delivery and takeout services — along with any outdoor-dining options.
Find a COVID-19 testing site
State and local health departments manage testing, but if you have coronavirus symptoms or your medical provider advises you to get tested, find a facility. Apple and Google now include the locations of COVID-19 testing sites in their maps apps using data gleaned from government agencies, public-health departments and health care institutions.
To see places where you can potentially be tested, enter a variation of “COVID-19 testing” into the search box in the maps app. When you select a facility from the resulting list, it should show any additional requirements for getting a test there, like an appointment or a doctor’s referral.
Find socially distant activity
If you need to leave home for work, errands or other reasons and don’t drive, both maps apps provide information on the current status of local public-transit service. But if your destination is walkable, going by foot offers exercise and a change of scenery — just tap the icon for walking directions.
A quick search in either maps app for “parks near me” can lead you to local greenery; maps for larger parks often include footpaths and attractions within the park.
For cyclists, Google Maps displays the types of bicycle trails available on a route (like dedicated traffic lanes or off-road dirt paths), along with landscape and terrain details when selected in the Layers menu. Apple’s iOS 14 software, coming this year, will enhance its Maps app features with routes showing things like bicycle lanes, bike-friendly roads, elevation and traffic information.
Find a digital diversion
Preventing the spread of the virus may discourage many people from taking trips this summer. But if you still want to explore new places, you can do a bit of virtual travel right in your maps app.
For example, when you search for a major city or landmark in Apple’s Maps app, look for the Flyover button or 3D icon on the information page, and tap it to take an aerial tour. You can also do a street-level exploration of major cities by tapping the binoculars icon and using the app’s Look Around feature.
For years, Google Maps has included a similar Street View feature that shows panoramic photos of a location as if you were standing there. But if you really want to see the world, check out Google Earth, the company’s other free maps app for Android and iOS. Once installed, Google Earth lets you “fly” around the globe, explore cities in 3D and wander through map-based tours in its Voyager section. True, virtual travel in any app can’t match the thrill of going in person — but for now, it’s safer.