Coronavirus lexicon: what do the words mean?

Coronavirus lexicon: what do the words mean?
By: Beth Ireland, Kayla Belec Last Updated: March 20, 2020

The coronavirus has affected us all in some way. From self-quarantines and social distancing to school shut-downs and temporary business closures, we’re all working hard to keep each other safe and healthy. With that has come a new common set of words surrounding this crisis. What do they all mean? We consulted a few trusted resources to give you this overview and remind everyone to please stay educated, healthy, and safe with factual information from the CDC and your Indiana State Health Department.

What is COVID-19 and why is it so unique?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China."

There are several different coronaviruses already around, like SARS. The COVID-19 virus, however, is a novel virus as it has never been seen before in humans, meaning we do not have the antibodies built up to defend our bodies against it. This is why it is spreading widely and quickly, creating a pandemic.

What is social distancing and why do we need it to flatten the curve?

There’s been a lot of talk about “flattening the curve” and why that’s important. To stop a huge spike of people being infected with the COVID-19 virus, which would overwhelm hospitals and medical centers, we can slow the rate of infection through social distancing practices like self-quarantine.

The best way to illustrate how crucial it is to flatten the curve is to see a visual. Here is a graphic that visualizes the impact social distancing practices can have on slowing down the sudden increase of infections.

Who are the people at greatest risk?

Although symptoms of COVID-19 have been compared to flu-like symptoms, this virus represents a life-threatening risk to many, including the elderly and those who have existing illnesses or are immunocompromised. Because there is no vaccine to counter COVID-19, a number of people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk when it comes to catching the virus.

High-risk individuals include:

  • Elderly people
  • People with cardiovascular disease
  • People with diabetes
  • People with lung disease
  • People with chronic respiratory disease
  • People battling cancer
  • People with hypertension
  • Anyone who is immunocompromised, has an immune deficiency or has a weakened immune system due to a previous or current illness, treatment, or medical history

Remember, though—disease can make anyone sick, regardless of age, race, or ethnicity.

How can we help those at risk and stop the spread?

The best way to avoid spreading this disease to those who are most threatened by it is to be diligent in practicing social distancing and sanitation. Here’s a run-down of the most applicable practices.

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, frequently. Wash them after using the bathroom; before and after preparing food; after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; after being on your cell phone. Helpful tip: sing or recite your ABCs while washing to ensure you’re hitting 20 seconds (make it a game with kids!).
  • Avoid touching your face. Especially with unwashed hands, steer clear of touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues. Throw the tissues away.
  • Clean and disinfect

STAY HOME. Social distance. Self-quarantine. Stay out of contact with people as much as possible, and try to give the people you’re sharing space with a 6-foot berth.

Coronavirus Lexicon

Here’s a quick look at all the words surrounding the COVID-19 that have become regular in conversations.

  • Coronavirus: Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
  • Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. 
  • Pandemic: A disease epidemic that has spread across a wide region, such as a country or the world. In the case of COVID-19, this pandemic is worldwide.
  • Flatten the curve: This phrase refers to the attempt to slow down the sudden surge of COVID-19 infections that have the potential to overwhelm medical resources. This is best depicted in a visual representation.
  • Social distancing: Avoiding social settings and interactions to reduce the spread of contagious disease.
  • Quarantine: A period or place of isolation in which people (or animals) who might have been exposed to an infectious disease are placed to prevent the disease’s spread. Many who have been exposed or diagnosed to COVID-19 are in quarantine.
  • Self-quarantine: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many individuals are practicing self-quarantine as a form of social distancing, refraining from interactions with others and remaining in their homes to avoid the disease’s spread.
  • Immunocompromised: We’ve heard this word a lot in the last few weeks to describe those who have compromised immune systems and are at greater risk when contracting COVID-19.
  • N-95 respirator mask: This is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a close facial fit and most efficient filtration of airborne particles. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are experiencing a shortage in these right now. U.S. laws are being enforced to respond to this problem; in the meantime, here’s how crafty people can help:

Some of the positive things happening right now

There are some good things happening locally while we wait.

Locally, many people are stepping up to help one another:

Here’s how some of our local organizations are responding:


The best place for accurate information about the virus is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

You may also find valuable local and state information at the Indiana State Department of Health, where you can also subscribe to a newsletter that will send you electronic updates.

For more information from your local trusted hospitals, visit: