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From A to V: A COVID-19 Glossary

May 14, 2020

The global pandemic we're facing together has sparked a whole new vocabulary. Here, we've listed and defined the key terms you're hearing every day. Staying informed is an important step in staying healthy and safe.

  • This is testing performed on those who have recovered from COVID-19. It's done to determine whether the body has produced antibodies to fight the virus and protect against reinfection.

  • Showing no symptoms, usually referencing a person who has COVID-19 but does not know it.

  • People who live in a common geographic area have become infected but may not know how they came into contact with the virus. For example, they have not had known exposure to an infected person nor have traveled to a high-risk area.

  • A tiny, disease-causing organism named for its crown-like appearance. There are several types of coronaviruses that cause disease in both humans and animals. Coronaviruses cause respiratory symptoms.

  • This is the abbreviation commonly used for the novel coronavirus disease first recognized in 2019. COVID-19 is highly contagious. Its most common symptoms are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. It may cause mild symptoms or no symptoms at all in some people, while it can be severe or life-threatening for others.

  • People naturally emit tiny respiratory droplets from mouths and noses through breathing, talking, sneezing and coughing. Droplet transmission occurs when an emitted droplet containing coronavirus transfers from one person’s nose or mouth to another’s nose, mouth or eyes, infecting them. Droplet transmission can also occur when a droplet is transferred from a "fomite" – an inanimate object contaminated by droplets containing the virus – to another person who comes into contact with that object.

  • An unusually large number of cases of a disease, often a sudden increase, above the generally expected number of cases of the disease for a given population or geographic area.

  • A community effort and behavior changes – such as social distancing and remaining at home except for essential needs – put into place to slow the spread of disease. The naturally high trajectory of the curve is “flattened” when disease spread is delayed. This is done in an effort to reduce the overall number of cases as well as the number occurring at any given time so that healthcare staff can prepare needed resources, such as ICU beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment.

  • An inanimate object contaminated with droplets containing virus that can serve as a vehicle for transferring the virus to infect another person. High-touch surfaces such as door knobs, faucets, light switches and phones are examples of fomites.

  • A method of cleaning the hands thoroughly to prevent the transfer of infectious germs. Hands should be scrubbed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used.

  • The time between a person's exposure to a disease-causing organism and the person developing symptoms. The incubation period of COVID-19 can range from 2-14 days.

  • Isolation is separating contagious people from others to prevent disease spread. Isolation can occur in hospitals or healthcare settings, with contagious patients treated in separate rooms or units. It can also occur at home, when a person recovering from illness stays in a room or space separate from others who live in the household.

  • A sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.

  • Disease spread that extends over a large geographic area – such as many countries or worldwide – and affects a significant portion of a population.

  • Specially designed items that protect the wearer from exposure to infectious disease. PPE includes masks, gloves, gowns and face shields, for example.

  • The practice of keeping at least 6 feet away from others to help prevent disease spread, which is more likely when people interact closely. Commonly called social distancing, the health system calls this physical distancing, as we encourage being safely social through methods like calls, FaceTime and Zoom events.

  • Quarantine is separating and restricting the movement of people exposed to a contagious disease as they wait to learn whether they have become infected. Staying home during this waiting period ensures the person does not infect others while they may be contagious without knowing it. People who are quarantining may or may not become sick. The restriction protects others until the person’s health status is confirmed.

    If a quarantined person learns they are positive, they must then isolate.

  • This stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. It is the official name of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The name reflects the virus' genetic structure and its grouping with similar virus types.

  • In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this refers to staying home for all but essential functions and restricting person-to-person contact to those who live within the same household.

  • The practice of keeping at least 6 feet away from others to help prevent disease spread caused by droplet transmission. Our communities have seen social distancing promoted through actions like cancellation of large events, closures of schools, salons and gyms, and restriction of restaurant business to carryout-only.

  • A treatment for disease provided by administering low doses of the disease organism to create or build immunity.

  • A mechanical device that moves air and oxygen through the lungs for a person unable to breathe on their own.

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