Coronavirus: Terms to know

Social distancing and isolation are key precautions folks can take to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

With so much information being disseminated to the public so rapidly, the number of terms associated with the coronavirus and public health can get overwhelming. Here is a glossary of terms that have to do with the disease:

Quarantine: A state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals which have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.


Self-quarantine: While isolation refers to separating sick people from people who aren’t sick, quarantine refers to the separation and restriction of movement of people who were exposed to the virus to see if they become sick.


Epidemic: An epidemic is a regional outbreak of an illness that spreads unexpectedly, according to the WHO. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines it as an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above normal expectations in a set population.


Pandemic: A pandemic disease is an epidemic that has spread over a large area, that is, it’s “prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.”


COVID-19: The technical name for the coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2. The respiratory disease it causes has been named the “coronavirus disease 2019,” or COVID-19.


Coronavirus: Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  


Zoonosis: The ability of a disease to be transferable to humans by animals. 


State of emergency: A state of emergency can be declared during natural disasters, epidemics, and other public health emergencies. Declaring a state of emergency, as more than a dozen states — including New York, New Jersey, and Michigan — have done, 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.


Incubation: The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is infected. This time can be critical for prevention and control, and it allows health officials to quarantine or observe people who may have been exposed to the virus.


Social distancing: Social distancing refers to measures that are taken to increase the physical space between people to slow the spread of the virus. Examples include working from home, school closures, and the postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings.


Immunocompromised: Having an impaired or weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised are more susceptible to the disease, and are more likely to have serious symptoms.


High-touch surfaces: Frequently touched surfaces such as railings, doorknobs, keyboards, phones, tabletops, sinks, toilet handles, money, and credit cards are surfaces that are most likely to be contaminated with bacteria and diseases.