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Here are Coronavirus terms you should know

March 28, 2020
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Because of all the articles online and stories on television, many people are being exposed to words they may not be familiar with.

We share a glossary of terms that will be helpful to know as we navigate this together.

The disease and spread

You may be hearing a lot of terms thrown around about the spread of the novel coronavirus. But there are big differences between words like outbreak and pandemic.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory (breathing) illness caused by a coronavirus that was first identified during an outbreak in China.

This disease is part of a large family of viruses, referred to as coronaviruses (CoV).


The constant presence of a disease in a population within a geographic area is known as an endemic.


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an epidemic is when there is an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease. This increase is above what is normally expected in that population in that area.


An outbreak is an epidemic, but the term is often used for a smaller geographic area.


A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, typically affecting many people.


A cluster is when there are many cases of a disease that happen at one place and time. The number of cases is more than expected.

Community spread

When people talk about community spread, they’re referring to the spread of an illness where we don’t know how people are getting infected.

Ex. A woman gets infected with coronavirus, but she hasn’t travelled recently and has not been exposed to someone we know has the disease.

Preventing Spread

Health and government officials are urging people to take certain steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially to vulnerable adults and children.

Here are some terms, related to decreasing your risk to exposure, which have come up recently.

Incubation period

The incubation period is the time from when a person is exposed to the disease to when they show the first symptoms of having it.

COVID-19 has an incubation period of 2-14 days, so some people may not know they have the disease right away.


Isolation is when a person or group of people, believed to be infected with a disease, are separated from the community. This can be voluntary or mandated by the government.

Isolated people are likely sick.


Quarantine is when a person or group of people – who may have been exposed but don’t show symptoms of the disease – are separated from others. This oftentimes prevents more people from getting sick.

Quarantined people may not be sick.


Self-quarantine is when you decide to quarantine yourself. It’s not mandated by the government but highly suggested.

The CDC recommends self-quarantining for 14 days, the length of COVID-19’s incubation period, if you:

  • Have traveled to a country with an outbreak of novel coronavirus
  • Show symptoms of coronavirus (fever, cough, shortness of breath)

Close contact

The CDC considers close contact as being within six feet of a person infected with COVID-19. Close contact also includes having contact with “infectious secretions” of a person with novel coronavirus.

Ex. If someone with coronavirus coughs on you, you have had close contact with that person.

Social distancing

Social distancing means avoiding large crowds or gathering. It also means avoiding close contact, staying about six feet from other people.

Reliable Sources of Information

Now that you’ve got the basic terms, make sure you’re also following only reliable sources of information, including: