A coronavirus glossary

The coronavirus has demanded that all of us expand our vocabulary and understanding of the terms that frequently appear in news stories and in health care information.

The following is intended to serve as a guide to help you better navigate the current pandemic.

Sources for the information include the Associated Press and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Antiseptic, disinfectant — Antiseptics, such as hand sanitizers, are used to kill germs on living things. Disinfectants, such as bleach, are used on inanimate things, such as countertops and handrails.

Asymptomatic — Does not report or appear to have any symptoms or signs of illness.

Contact tracing — Identification and location of persons who may have been exposed to a person with the coronavirus. It may result in regular monitoring for evidence of illness and strict or modified quarantine.

Coronaviruses — A family of viruses, some of which cause disease in people and animals, named for crownlike spikes on their surfaces when viewed under a microscope.

The viruses can cause the common cold or more severe diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19.

Scientists use the word “novel” to distinguish any new form of coronavirus. It suggests no previous exposures and means no one has had a chance to build immunity, except for the possible exception of people who recently recovered from COVID-19, according the CDC.

COVID-19 — This is the name of the disease, caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Droplet transmission — Occurs when droplets containing infectious agents are propelled a short distance through the air (e.g., by coughing, sneezing, or talking) and deposited in the eyes, nose or mouth of a susceptible person.

CARES Act — The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Epidemic, pandemic — An epidemic is the rapid spreading of disease in a certain population or region; a pandemic is an epidemic that has spread worldwide. Follow declarations of public health officials. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Epidemiologists — Public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease in humans. Epidemiologists strive to reduce risk and occurrence with research, community education and health policy.

Flatten the curve — This refers to taking protective actions, often called community mitigation measures, that slow the spread of a disease and reduce the likelihood of hospital and other health care systems getting overwhelmed.

Hot spot — This is not a readily defined public health term, but it has been used to describe an area with a large number of cases.

Immunocompromised — People with a weakened immune system are sometimes described as being immunocompromised. Cancer patients in active treatment, people being treated for autoimmune conditions like lupus, pregnant women and others may have weaker immune systems, which may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission or symptom severity.

Incubation period — Time between infection and the appearance of signs or symptoms of an illness. The incubation period for the coronavirus is thought to be up to two weeks.

Isolation, quarantine — According to the CDC: Isolation is separating sick people from healthy people to prevent spread of disease. For example, people believed to have COVID-19 or to have been exposed to the coronavirus are put in isolation in hospitals or are asked to practice self-isolation. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Masks, respirators, ventilators — An N95 mask is a specific type of tight-fitting, cup-shaped face mask that covers the nose and mouth, filters the air, and is used by workers in such settings as construction and health care. They are technically respirators, but the preferred term is masks to avoid confusion with ventilators. Respirators like the N95 are distinct from surgical masks, which also cover the nose and mouth but fit loosely. A ventilator is a machine that helps people breathe; breathing machine is acceptable.

Morbidity and mortality — These statistics, which are being tracked and updated daily, refer to cases of illness (morbidity) and deaths (mortality) due to COVID-19.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) — Specialized clothing and equipment designed to create a barrier against health and safety hazards; examples include goggles, face shields, gloves, and respirators.

Physical distancing — When people emit respiratory droplets, virus transmission has the potential to occur when people are in close quarters. Keeping a physical distance between yourself and others is a key recommendation for preventing the spread of infection.

Quarantine — Restricting movement of healthy people who may have been exposed to an infection to see if they become ill.

Respiratory symptoms — When screening patients, “respiratory symptoms” generally refer to symptoms of infection of the lower respiratory tract (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing).

SARS — Severe acute respiratory syndrome; a clinical syndrome characterized by fever, lower respiratory symptoms, and radiographic evidence of pneumonia.

Social distancing — The CDC is urging social distancing. Generally, social distancing involves measures to restrict when and where people can gather. The goal is to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases.

Surge capacity — Ability to obtain additional resources when needed during an emergency.

Virologists — Microbiologists who study microorganisms that quickly duplicate, resulting in the rapid spreading of viruses.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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