COVID-19 Vocabulary: A Dozen Words to Know
As a writer, and avid Scrabble player, I pay attention to the definition of words I use. This COVID-19 pandemic has introduced lots of words. I looked up these to be sure I understood the meanings.
- Coronavirus refers to a large family of viruses that includes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The first identified SARS strain caused a two-year outbreak in 2002.
Corona comes from the Latin word for “crown.” The virus’s physical shape resembles a crown.
- Virus is from the Latin for a secretion, poison, or venom and any of a type of submicroscopic agents that cause disease, or a disease caused by such an agent. For example, the common cold is a virus. It’s caused by various viruses not related to coronavirus or flu strains.
The adjective form – viral is something widely spread within a culture, primarily through social media. Think how a Facebook post or Twitter post is said to “go viral.”
The dictionary definition for viral is something with a metaphorically poisonous effect on the mind or the soul.
- A novel coronavirus means a new or different virus. In 2019 SARS-CoV-2 appeared as a new/different virus and named as COVID-19.
The acronym comes from the first two letters of each word in coronavirus and the first letter of disease, followed by the last two digits of the year in which the virus strain was identified.
- Pandemic, which comes from Latin for “all people,” describes a disease widely dispersed geographically and common among populations. COVID-19 is both and therefore called a pandemic.
An epidemic is different from a pandemic. Epidemic means “among or within people” and refers to an invasive but local disease.
Pandemic is used exclusively in a scientific context, while epidemic can be used in nonscientific references.
- Asymptomatic means “presenting no symptoms of disease.” The connotation for the COVID-19 pandemic is what’s significant. A person, unaware of having the disease is a risk, may spread the disease to others, who are also unsuspecting.
- Morbidity— I was surprised to learn in scientific and medical contexts refers to the rate at which a population contracts a disease, not death. Mortality which measures the number of people who die from a disease.
- Quarantine is the policy of restricting movement of people or goods to prevent the spread of disease or pests. To self-quarantine is to voluntarily isolate.
- Vaccine is familiar word—a substance injected into the body of a person or an animal to protect it against disease. It’s generally a weakened or killed form of a bacteria or virus, and the injection forces the body to produce antibodies without suffering from full-blown symptoms or succumbing to the disease.
- Herd immunity is the concept of reducing the infection risk by mass exposure to the contagion or widespread immunization. Nice concept for an ideal result, but a strategy of exposing a large population to a disease to produce herd immunity only helps the survivors. Not the many people who die or continue to suffer from chronic symptoms.
These next phrases have been used so often we all know the meaning, but just in case.
- Flatten the curve is the strategy of minimizing the number of cases of a contagious disease so as not to overwhelm healthcare resources and avoid an increase in cases.
The curve is charted on a graph showing the increase in cases. Flattening is visualization of the effect on the curve so that it is a long, low hump rather than a steep spike.
Flattening the curve in a pandemic is not only about mitigating the impact on hospitals and healthcare personnel but also keeping cases down.
- Shelter in place originally referred to staying inside a structure when a biological, chemical, or radioactive contamination emergency is announced rather than going outside to a shelter or evacuating to another area and being exposed.
Nowadays, the phrase means staying socially isolated as much as possible to avoid contracting (or passing on) a contagious disease.
- Social distancing, meaning the interpersonal interaction of individuals, is actually 200 years old. Today’s meaning refers to physical space between oneself and others to avoid contracting a disease.
Six feet apart will likely only prevent contamination through breathing and accidental exposure from coughing or sneezing because airborne solutions can project greater distances.
That’s why wearing a mask and social distancing is recommended.