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COVID-19: What Does It All Mean?

As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe, new words and phrases came with it 鈥 鈥渃oronavirus,鈥 for starters. 聽

Here are explanations for few key terms you may be hearing in the news and from public officials.


This is a large family of viruses, named because they have a 鈥渃orona,鈥 or halo, when viewed under a microscope.

Coronaviruses cause a range of diseases, from as mild as a common cold to as severe as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Viruses in this family can spread from animals to people. Many coronaviruses are known to circulate in animals but have not yet jumped to humans.

The novel coronavirus causing the current pandemic 鈥 SARS-CoV-2 鈥 first appeared in humans in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

Sources: World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


This is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

COVID-19 illnesses range from mild to severe or even deadly. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Fever
  • Cough (usually dry)
  • Shortness of breath

Seek medical attention immediately if you have the following warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure
  • New confusion
  • Bluish lips or face

Source: CDC


The WHO defines pandemic as 鈥渢he worldwide spread of a new disease.鈥 It is what we鈥檙e currently experiencing with COVID-19.

Flatten the curve聽

This refers to taking community actions to slow the spread of new COVID-19 cases, so hospitals aren鈥檛 stretched beyond capacity.

Public health officials are concerned the number of COVID-19 cases may spike beyond what hospitals can handle at one time. Taking certain steps now 鈥 as simple as active handwashing and as hard as asking entire communities to stay home 鈥 may 鈥渇latten鈥 the rate of new cases so health care workers have the resources to treat them.

Source: CDC

Social distancing聽聽

This is a public health practice that can slow the person-to-person spread of COVID-19 and help flatten the curve.

The CDC defines social distancing as:

  • Avoiding public spaces where you may have close contact with other people
  • Avoiding mass gatherings
  • Maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others

Some state and local governments have helped social distancing efforts by closing schools, restaurants, movie theaters and other places where people gather.

Individuals can help by cancelling large gatherings like weddings and only leaving the house for necessities like groceries and medication 鈥 even if they鈥檙e feeling healthy.

Source: CDC, Johns Hopkins


People who may have been exposed to COVID-19 may choose to self-quarantine. It means staying home, not having visitors and staying 6 feet away from other housemates for 14 days after exposure. Fourteen days seems to be the incubation period for this virus 鈥 meaning it鈥檚 believed to be enough time to know if a person will become ill.

Source: Johns Hopkins


If someone does become sick, they should self-isolate. That means staying home and staying away from others 鈥 including housemates 鈥 by staying in a 鈥渟ick room鈥 in your house and using a separate bathroom, if possible.

This limits the chances of spreading the illness to others.

Source: CDC

Shelter-in-place聽and stay-at-home orders

Some cities and states have issued these orders. Details vary state to state but essentially strive for the same thing: social distancing on a large scale.

In Illinois, for example, a statewide stay-at-home order prohibits visiting other peoples鈥 homes and closes all nonessential businesses, like retail, recreation and entertainment. Nonessential workers can work from home if they鈥檙e able.

The order doesn鈥檛 prohibit activities considered necessary, including shopping for groceries, going to the pharmacy, getting medical care or taking walks outside.

Source: State of llinois

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