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17 coronavirus terms that change the world: Flat out the curve, pandemic, more


Keeping these hands germ-free is essential.

Angela Lang / CNET

Visit the WHO Web site for the latest updates and information about the coronavirus pandemic.

In just three months, the coronavirus first reported in China reported to have shut down entire countries and killed over 7,000 people around the world. Employees and students stay indoors after elections or by mandate. Social media flows are filled with the pleasure of participating in social distance.

The highly contagious virus is poorly understood, but scientists are competing to share knowledge and discover therapies to combat it. A vaccine can take a year or more. At the same time, society's fabric – and language – is changing at an alarming rate, as the corona virus known as SARS-CoV-2 is spreading all over the world.

If you know the key words and phrases carried from the COVID-19 outbreak, congratulations on being so carefully informed. If not, we will help you explain what you need to know to come together in a coronavirus world. We continue to update this story as our social response to the virus develops.

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New coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2

No, the virus known to have infected over 180,000 people is not really called "coronavirus." The word refers to everyone in a family of viruses whose structure exhibits crown-like spikes when viewed under a microscope. The term "novel coronavirus" is a general term for the current type we are fighting against. It became a fixture before the virus got an official name: SARS-CoV-2.


You may be tempted to use COVID-19 as a synonym for coronavirus, but it will confuse questions. COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It stands for "Coronavirus Disease 2019."

The disease causes symptoms of flulike but dangerously affects the lungs by filling them with fluid at a rapid rate. Patients with extreme cases may need respiratory protection and oxygen to help them breathe, often for weeks. The fear is that deaths will occur when the patient's need for ventilators exceeds the supply.


The World Health Organization, often called the WHO, is the global body that has become a clearinghouse for information, research and security guidelines. SARS-CoV-2, then simply referred to as the novel coronavirus, was first reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019, days after the first patients were admitted to hospitals in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Pandemic versus epidemic

WHO officially declared coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 into a pandemic on March 11. The word "pan" (which roughly means "everyone") refers to the global spread, which affects virtually all countries and regions around the world. An epidemic refers to a more localized region. Before the coronavirus reached places like the United States, coronaviruses were considered to be an epidemic in China's Hubei province and then in the country itself. Here's more about pandemics versus epidemics.

PCR Testing

A test protocol to identify if you have received SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This test works by identifying the DNA of the virus through a process called PCR, or polymerase chain reaction. The PCR test looks for markers that are distinct to this viral strain. The sample can be obtained through a neck or nose stop, making it ideal for the type of screening test centers proposed in countries such as the United States. More information about coronavirus testing here.

Positive vs. Assumptive Cases

How do you know if you are infected with the new coronavirus? Listing your symptoms is not enough. Positive or confirmed cases are identified by laboratory tests. It is not an assumed case. If you have symptoms that are compatible with COVID-19 – including fever, a dry cough and fluid buildup in the lungs – and have had contact with a confirmed case, you are still considered presumptive.

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Global confirmed COVID-19 cases from March 17, 2020 (cumulative). Tracked by Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering / Screenshot by CNET

Community Distribution

SARS-CoV-2 is highly contagious and spreads through "respiratory droplets" (cough, sneezing, transfer of saliva) and contaminated objects, such as a door handle or other shared surfaces. Spreading between people means that you can trace how the disease got from one person to another through direct contact, like shaking hands. Community dissemination refers to people in the same place that get the virus without an obvious chain of events.

Community dissemination is an early sign that a disease can rapidly affect local, even global, populations. Read more at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Social distancing

In addition to thorough hand washing, WHO and CDC recommend social distancing practices to slow COVID-19 by staying at least 6 feet away from others, refraining from moving and staying indoors, especially if you are over 60 , immune system or suffer from an underlying condition. Local and national governments have responded by limiting gatherings of people, ranging from a maximum of 10 people to 50 or 250 or even 1,000.

Self-quarantine, self-isolation

People who largely remain in their own homes, hotel room or other space is said to be quarantined or self-insulated. For example, many governments ask travelers who return from affected areas to self-quarantine for two weeks. But there is a technical difference. Quarantine refers to people who appear healthy, but may be exposed to exposure or infection. Isolation is intended to separate positive or presumptive cases (see above) from the healthy population.

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Limitation, not containment

This phrase confirms that in pandemic proportions, nations cannot contain the spread of coronavirus. But with social distance, self-quarantine and isolation, the COVID-19 burden can be mitigated. In other words, slowing down the rate of infection can increase the chances of survival by avoiding overcrowded hospitals, running short on important deliveries before they can be replenished and overworked by medical personnel. This is a sobering account of what happens when the disease COVID-19 is considering medical and support systems.

Flat the curve

Without mitigation, social distancing and everything else, epidemiologists and other health experts predict a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases that look like a high, narrow nail on a graph. By following guidelines, the projected model looks shorter and spreads over time. The curve is flatter, milder, less pronounced. The hope of leveling the curve is to reduce deaths by buying hospitals time to treat and researchers time to discover therapies and create a vaccine.

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Adapted from CDC pre-pandemic guidelines (2017)


On-site protection

On March 16, six counties in the San Francisco Bay area ordered residents to "protect on site," a directive aimed at keeping people in their homes for three weeks. All non-essential businesses are closed, and with the exception of shopping for items such as food and medicine, picking up food and taking walks while staying a distance of 6 feet from others, locals are expected to stay inside. It is a fairly stringent measure aimed at limiting the spread in the Community.

N95 face masks

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and coronavirus is spread through vaporized drops. N95 breathing masks are the only type that can protect you from getting SARS-CoV-2. Any other kind, including surgical masks, are ineffective at blocking the airborne virus. So why do some people continue to wear surgical masks? They may not be fully informed, it may make them feel better, or they may feel ill and want to provide a barrier from their cough and sneezing as a condition to you.

Hand washing, social distancing and self-quarantine are considered more effective measures for ordinary citizens, and the medical community is asking to save N95 masks for its nurses and doctors, who are in the most vulnerable and most in need of protection.

Vulcan greeting

You do not shake hands, kiss or pat your back. These elbow and toe taps are also out. Instead of the usual cultural methods of saying hello, an internet meme suggested greeting people in the Vulcan way by flashing a fictitious hand signal for "live long and prosper". Here are 12 other touchless ways to say "hey."

An overabundance of caution

The preventive closure of offices, businesses and schools in the face of positive cases has often been met with the phrase "because of an (over) overabundance of caution."

70% isopropyl alcohol

Wash Careful with soap and water is the best way to kill coronavirus on the skin, but surfaces can be more difficult to disinfect. Experts say that disinfection napkins and sprays and solutions made with 70% isopropyl alcohol are also effective in destroying the virus's structure. But be careful. Making your own detergent and other detergents can be dangerous and not recommended.

Zoonotic disease

How did coronavirus become? What the researchers know is that coronavirus is transmitted between humans and animals – it's "zoo" in "zoonotic". It is believed that the virus can originate in a live animal market in Wuhan, a city in Hubei Province in China, with a diseased animal transmitting it within members of the local population. Other zoonotic diseases include anthrax, rabies, Lyme disease, H1N1 ("swine flu"), West Nile virus, salmonella and malaria.

Stay informed about coronavirus updates and developments, help your friends and neighbors spread the myths about the virus and use these 10 best tips to avoid coronaviruses when you need to leave the house.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider about any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objective.

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