Confused about the coronavirus? This glossary will help

Confused by coronavirus conversations? Here's what you need to know. (Photo Illustration: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Lifestyle)

As the world braces for the continued spread of the coronavirus, rarely-before used terms like “pandemic,” “incubation period” and  “quarantine” have solidified their place in our global conversation. Understanding these words — which are now ubiquitous on social media and in daily conversations — is crucial. But if the strange new vocabulary is making your head spin, you’re not alone. Here to help is a simple-to-use glossary of the words you need to know.



An anti-malarial drug. Early research suggests that a similar medication, hydroxychloroquine, may be helpful in lessening the symptoms of COVID-19 — but experts say more research is needed.

Community spread

Confirmed cases of a virus with unknown origin, meaning they cannot be traced to a close contact or a traveler. Multiple states in the U.S. have reported high rates of community spread, including Washington, New York, California and Massachusetts.

Containment strategies

Policies or actions used to contain something dangerous (e.g. COVID-19). Federal and local officials have enacted containment strategies that include travel restrictions and — in New York — a one-mile “containment zone” in which residents must remain within the limits of the designated area.


A family of viruses, named for their crown-like spikes, which can cause mild to severe respiratory illness (e.g. Middle-East respiratory syndrome or MERS; Avian flu).


A new disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 which may cause a mild to severe respiratory illness including dry cough, fever, shortness of breath and fatigue. Some reports show that COVID-19, in some individuals, may produce no symptoms.


Defense Production Act

A bill, invoked by the U.S. president on Wednesday, which allows private companies to increase the production of vital supplies and equipment such as masks, ventilators and gloves. 

What's an epidemiologist? This glossary of coronavirus terms has the answers. (Photo Illustration: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Lifestyle).



The widespread outbreak of an infectious disease. Past epidemics include the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the 2014 Ebola epidemic, and the 2019 measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Experts who investigate the spread of infectious disease, including causes, risk factors, frequency, patterns and populations. While some epidemiologists work as academics or leaders in health departments, others operate in the field, flying into regions where a new disease has erupted.


Flattening the curve

Using containment and mitigation strategies to slow the spread of disease in order to avoid a scenario in which health care facilities are over-capacity and supplies are scant. 



An anti-malarial drug taken by people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to reduce flare-ups. Early research suggests that it may be effective in lessening the symptoms of coronavirus, but experts say more research is needed to make that determination.


Incubation period

The amount of time a person carries a virus before showing symptoms. The most recent research suggests that for the coronavirus, this is 2-14 days, with an average of 5 days.


An immune system that is weakened or impaired, meaning its ability to fight off infection may be more limited. The condition can be caused by viruses (such as HIV) or


Used to describe a medical quarantine for patients who have tested positive for a virus.


Mitigation strategies

Preparations that health officials and community members can take to help mitigate, or lessen the impact, of disasters (in this case, a viral pandemic). Examples include formulating household plans, canceling faith services and keeping up with the latest information from the CDC.



A sudden, often unexpected rise in something harmful (e.g. disease, war, panic).

What's a pandemic? This glossary of coronavirus terms has the answers.



An epidemic that has gone global, spreading across every continent. 


The brand name for hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that is being explored as a treatment option for patients with COVID-19.



The act of intentionally remaining in one place to prevent infection or the spread of infection.



A tight-fitting mask — such as the N95 — that is sealed to the face and protects against 95 percent of airborne particles, both large and small. 



The official name for a new virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China that may cause a range of respiratory symptoms including dry cough, fever, shortness of breath and fatigue.


A rare, often mandatory order that requires individuals to remain at home unless obtaining basic necessities (like food, medicine) or receiving/conducting medical care. Exceptions, such as the ability to go on a walk for exercise, vary by location. 

Social distancing

Keeping a distance of six feet or more from strangers to prevent the spread of disease and limiting frivolous activities such as social gatherings and unnecessary travel.

State of emergency

Either state or local declaration that allows government officials to bypass laws, release funds and galvanize both citizens and medical staff.

What's a respirator? This glossary of coronavirus terms has the answers. (Photo Illustration: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Lifestyle)

Stealth transmission

The spread of a virus through an asymptomatic person — meaning someone who has no symptoms, or extremely mild symptoms.  

Surgical mask

A loose-fitting, disposable mask used to protect health workers and sick people from spreading disease through large airborne particles.



A medical device that provides a patient with oxygen.

For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.

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