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Glossary of COVID-19 Terms

Yesterday, as I was walking my rescue hound, Lucille Ball (newly adopted, thanks to COVID-19’s having made me a homebody for who knows how long), a woman walking her own dog paused to allow the pups to greet one another.

“It’s so hard being quarantined,” she remarked from six feet away.

“Wait, you’re quarantined?” I demanded as I hastily backed away.

“Well, like everyone…you know. Right?” She was looking at me, kind of puzzled.

“You mean ‘social distancing’?”

Yeah, I’m that person. The one who corrects you if you say “quarantine” when you mean “social distancing” ... not to be unpleasant, but because the way I see it, saying “quarantine” when you mean “social distancing” is like saying “aircraft carrier” when you mean “kayak”. And now that “COVID-19” has gone from an “outbreak” to an “epidemic” to a “pandemic,” with “confirmed cases” steadily inching toward 100,000, it’s a near certainty that when talking about the illness caused by the novel “coronavirus,” you’re going to fumble your terms, at least some of the time.

Or is it? Obnoxiously word-fixated people like me aside, there’s something to be said for knowing your coronavirus terminology, even if it’s just to make sense of the daily news updates. So, here is a glossary of terms to help you make sense of the inevitable daily information overload:

Coronavirus: One of the viruses in the family of viruses that has a spiky “crown”-like appearance under a microscope. These range in severity from the common cold to the far more deadly SARS (see definition) and MERS (see definition) viruses.

MERS: Short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a highly contagious virus that was first seen and reported in Saudi Arabia during 2012

SARS: Short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, and which was first seen and reported in February 2003, at which time a global outbreak occurred. It was subsequently contained.

SARS-CoV-2: Another abbreviation for COVID-19. It refers to the fact that COVID-19 is a SARS illness caused by a coronavirus.

COVID-19: The World Health Organization gave this name to the illness caused by the new coronavirus that first appeared in China in late 2019. It’s short for "coronavirus disease 2019.”

Outbreak: A sudden increase in diagnoses of a particular illness.

Pandemic: An "outbreak" affecting large populations or a whole region, country, or continent (as compared to an "epidemic," which affects a particular community).

Contagious: An adjective meaning “capable of spreading an illness.” The issue with COVID-19 is the length of time during which people are “contagious,” which might be for as long as 14 days from the time they are first infected with it. See “Incubation Period” below).

Incubation Period: The incubation period is the time between exposure to an illness and actually showing symptoms. People exposed to COVID-19 can take up to 14 days to show symptoms. This long incubation period is one reason COVID-19 has spread so effectively.

Containment: This refers to the effort to limit the spread of illness. Some illnesses have been contained via vaccination, but COVID-19 has no vaccination or treatment as of yet. Therefore, “containment” is accomplished via "social distancing," “isolation,” and “quarantine” (see definitions below)

Close Contact: Being with 6 feet of another person such that a “droplet” from one person could land on the other person or something the other person is wearing or holding.

Droplet: A particle of moisture from the respiratory system. Droplets expelled by someone infected with COVID-19 can spread the COVID-19 virus to another person if that second person touches the droplet and introduces it into their own respiratory system (by touching their eyes, lips, or nose).

Airborne Transmission: This is also accomplished via droplet, but a much smaller droplet - one that is small enough to be imperceptible in the air. Most COVID-19 cases are not transmitted this way.

Confirmed Case: A person who tests positive for COVID-19 via a CDC-approved lab.

Presumptive Positive Test Result: A positive test for COVID-19 that was performed by a local or state health laboratory. Presumptive becomes “confirmed” when testing is conducted in a CDC-approved lab.

Curve: A graphic representation of the number of new cases of a disease over a given period of time. The more cases in that period of time, the steeper the curve, and the greater the burden on the healthcare system.

Face Mask: Loose-fitting paper or cloth masks that form a physical barrier between the wearer and other people, with the purpose being to prevent the wearer from spreading germs when they sneeze or cough. They also can remind the wearer not touch their face.

Respirator: For COVID-19 purposes, a respirator is not a machine to help one breathe a type of face mask that doesn’t just act as a barrier but also filters out virus particles before they can be inhaled.

N95 respirator: A respirator that filters out 95% of virus particles. This is the gold standard or healthcare workers and are in short supply now.

Ventilator: A machine that moves air in and out of the lungs in the case that a patient cannot, or is having trouble breathing on their own. Unfortunately, this happens all too often in COVID-19 cases.

Quarantine: The separation of someone who has been diagnosed with an illness, has symptoms of the illness, or has reason to believe they were exposed to the illness, from other people. The duration of a quarantine is guided by the incubation period for the particular illness. Quarantine can be imposed on a person or self-administered.

Social Distancing: Is the practice of maintaining enough distance between yourself and another person to reduce the risk of breathing in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In a community, social distancing measures may include limiting or cancelling large gatherings of people.

Shelter-in-place: Finding a safe location and staying there while the crisis continues.

Lockdown: When you see this word, please know it is not an official, technical, or legal word. Rather it’s just a word people use to a non-technical word that people use to refer to any kind of public health measures being taken to prevent the virus spreading.

Spanish Flu: You're likely, at least at some point, to hear COVID-19 compared to, and contrasted with Spanish Flu. Active between April of 1918 and December 1920, this flu, which most likely originated in China but that got its name from the nation that, at least initially, put out the most media coverage of the outbreak (this was a function of wartime politics). The scary thing is that 100 million people died worldwide. The good news is we are so much better equipped to practice social distancing one than we were back in 1918. See, for example. Exela’s Digital Mailroom allows an office to function even without a mailroom or other support staff.

State-of-emergency: Declaring a state of emergency gives government officials the authority to take extra measures to protect the public, such as suspending regulations or reallocating funds to mitigate the spread of a disease.

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the U.S.'s health protection agency and a leading reliable source for COVID-19 updates for the U.S.).

WHO: The World Health Organization, which is an agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.

Here at the Exela Blog, we strive to bring you only the most reliable, accurate, news that is relevant to you. Stay tuned for more COVID-19 content, including more about how to make remote working work for your company, which COVID-19 “offers” are really just scams, and best practices for remaining uninfected.