Make Social Distancing Easier with a Chatbot

Social distancing measures can be challenging during this time of crisis. Find out how a social chatbot can help you stay connected online.

By Adam Westin
April 21, 2020

If you’ve seen the movies Her or Iron Man, you’ve seen a social chatbot at work. Chatbots have the ability to engage in conversations with humans, essentially mimicking human interactions. Attempts to create intelligent dialogue systems date back to the 1960s and, thanks to advancements in natural language processing (NLP), performance, design, and user experience, chatbot technologies are bringing revolutionary changes to the ways that humans and machines interact with each other.

Chatbots are being used to transform many fields, like teaching, e-commerce, law, human resources, and healthcare. In the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, chatbots have become essential in helping to maintain community and connections as we adjust to the new normal of social distancing measures.

Read on to learn about some ways that chatbots are helping everyone stay connected, informed, and engaged.

Mental health chatbots

Considering the demands of social distancing measures, it makes sense that people are turning to remote sources of psychological support. In addition to making preexisting mental health conditions more difficult to manage, the immediate impacts of the pandemic, like working from home, homeschooling, self-quarantining, and distancing ourselves from loved ones, include increasing feelings of anxiety, loneliness, stress, paranoia, and depression.

In response to the pandemic, mental health chatbots are registering an influx of interest and usage. Rather than automating or substituting the expertise of therapists and psychologists, mental health chatbots are conversation-driven and aim to be a sort of first line of support for individuals, while providing privacy and anonymity. These applications are ready to listen and chat anytime and anywhere and can recommend activities that improve the users’ well-being.

Tess, a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI), delivers mental health support through text message conversations and is seeing an increase in usage. The bot’s developer, X2 Foundation, has reported that the number of users mentioning coronavirus to Tess has increased 20 times. Tess has also adjusted some of its dialogue to address the coronavirus.

Other chatbot creators, like Woebot, which uses brief daily chat conversations, mood tracking, curated videos, and word games to help people manage mental health, are also working to incorporate content for coronavirus-related anxiety.

Wysa, which calls itself an “AI friend,” has responded by releasing specific toolkits for “pandemic anxiety” and “isolation wellness.” These toolkits now have the highest usage across all the app’s services.

Mental health chatbots are becoming more and more common in the field of psychology, making treatment approachable and attainable and providing a connection, all while enabling social distancing measures. Check out our blog on AI therapists to learn more about AI for mental health.

Chatbots providing information about COVID-19

Along with the stresses of social distancing measures, the world is dealing with misinformation and constant updates about the coronavirus pandemic that can engender more anxiety, uncertainty, and worry and may even incite unnecessary panic. The lack of adequate testing also necessitates virtual screenings and assessments to stem in-person interactions.

To address this, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created Clara, a “coronavirus self-checker” developed with Microsoft Azure’s Healthcare Bot service. Clara is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment purposes; rather, it fields the overwhelming volume of questions that the CDC receives, walking users through symptoms and then providing recommendations if the users require medical care. This helps the CDC answer more queries, enabling medical professionals to focus on looking after patients in need of critical care.

According to Microsoft “The need to screen patients with any number of cold or flu-like symptoms—to determine who has high enough risk factors to need access to limited medical resources and which people may more safely care for themselves at home—is a bottleneck that threatens to overwhelm health systems coping with the crisis."

The bot asks users a series of questions, like whether the user has possible symptoms or preexisting medical conditions or whether they may have been in contact with an infected individual. Based on their answers, Clara then recommends the appropriate next steps, from directions like, “Go to the Emergency Department” or “Call your provider if you get worse.”

Similarly, India has turned to WhatsApp to create awareness about the coronavirus pandemic. Citizens there can text a WhatsApp bot, called MyGov Corona Helpdesk, to receive accurate and verified information about the coronavirus. The chatbot was developed to fight rumors, educate the public, and help instill a sense of calm. MyGov Corona Helpdesk also answers questions about the symptoms of COVID-19 and how users can seek help.

Chatbots and customer service

COVID-19 has disrupted workplaces and travel plans around the globe. As a result, customer service centers are experiencing an uptick in overall call volume. As customer representatives are increasingly ordered to work from home and to participate in social distancing measures, companies are resorting to AI and chatbots to bridge the resulting gaps in service and to communicate with their customers while their physical locations are closed.

LivePerson has reported significant increases in volume on its conversational platform, particularly with verticals like airlines and hotels.

“We are at all-hands-on-deck status helping brands enable their contact centers to work remotely to meet the demand on messaging platforms as voice call hold times skyrocket,” a LivePerson spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Business SMS text messaging solution Quiq has also adapted during this time of crisis, offering chatbot and work-from-home solutions for all types of businesses. Through the company’s platform, businesses can set up chatbots to virtually greet customers, troubleshoot real-time issues, and collect feedback from customers, so employees aren’t interacting face to face with customers.


Even before the coronavirus outbreak, chatbots were on the rise as resources to facilitate conversation, provide information, and enhance customer service. In these troubling times, businesses are utilizing AI and chatbot solutions to communicate with their customers in a way that customers prefer and that can provide solace. Ideally, brands that embrace this technology now will be able to maintain a sense of normalcy in future periods of crisis.

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only information. The information is not a supplement to, and NOT a substitute for, the knowledge, skill, and judgment of qualified psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and health care professionals.