As COVID-19 continues to spread, we are hearing terms like “PPE” and “pandemic” in every news report. But do you know what all of the unfamiliar terms mean? We asked our clinicians to define the most common terms used when talking about COVID-19.

Community spread (transmission): When some people become infected and they aren’t sure how, when, or where they were exposed. They have no history of travel to an affected area and no known contact with people who are sick.

Containment:  Things done to help stop the spread, or contain, a disease.

Coronavirus: A large group of viruses that cause breathing problems in people and animals. Most cases are mild or moderate, but some can be serious. Some can cause pneumonia and death.

COVID-19: The disease caused by the new coronavirus. It stands for COrona VIrus Disease-2019(the year it was first identified).

Diagnostic testing: A way to find out if a person has a disease. The CDC’s coronavirus test involves getting a sample of fluid or mucus/phlegm from your nose, mouth, throat, or lungs.

Epidemic: An outbreak of disease that spreads rapidly and unexpectedly to many people in a community. 

Epidemiology: The study of how infectious diseases happen, spread, and are controlled.

Fatality rate: The number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases.

Flattening the curve: Slowing the growth rate of an infection. “The curve” refers to a chart that shows when a surge of new cases is expected to hit.

Immunocompromised: A person with an immune system that isn’t working right. Many things can make someone immunocompromised. Diseases like AIDS, some cancer drugs, and even losing sleep, eating unhealthy foods, or not drinking enough water can weaken your immunity.

Incubation Period: The time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is infected.

Isolation: Separating sick people with a highly contagious disease from those who are healthy.

Mitigation: Actions that people and organizations can take to help slow the spread of the virus within their communities.

Outbreak: When a disease spreads quickly in a group of people in one place at one time.

Pandemic: A disease that has spread to countries all over the world.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Masks, gloves, and other gear that doctors and other healthcare workers wear to protect themselves from diseases.

Quarantine: Separating and limiting movement of someone who is well but who may have been exposed to a disease to see if they get sick.

SARS-CoV-2: The name of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 is related to, but not the same as, the virus that caused the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003.

Screening: A way to find people who may be at risk for a disease but don’t show symptoms yet.

Self-quarantine: Staying at home voluntarily, away from others, for 14 days. People who feel well but may have been exposed to the new coronavirus are asked to self-quarantine. Some people with only mild symptoms may also self-quarantine if their doctor feels they can care for themselves easily.

Social distancing: Taking steps to keep a safe space (6 feet) between yourself and others. Avoiding crowds, not shaking hands, and not using subways, buses, or ride shares are examples of social distancing.

State of emergency: When government officials take extra steps to protect people from natural disasters, epidemics, pandemics, and other public health emergencies. They may make new rules, like setting curfews, or request extra funding to help people recover.

Virus: A very tiny infectious particle made up of genes and protein. Viruses can’t survive and reproduce unless they live inside a host cell.