understand the news

The situation of the coronavirus outbreak is changing fast. And news and information about the disease can be overwhelming, not least of which are the many new, confusing, and technical terms being used about the outbreak. Understanding these terms is essential to helping people stay informed and safe—and we take seriously our role in defining and explaining them for you.

In addition to our in-depth articles on pandemic vs. epidemic, quarantine vs. isolation, respirator vs. ventilator, and COVID-19, we have put together a glossary of some of the most important terms about COVID-19 to keep you up-to-date and in-the-know. We will continue updating the glossary as needed as the situation evolves.


Apex variously means “the tip, point, vertex, summit, climax, peak.”

In relation to COVID-19, apex can be used to refer to the highest number of cases in a state or country, after which the rate of infection begins to slow. See flatten the curve.


Asymptomatic means “showing no evidence of disease.”

Just because a person is asymptomatic doesn’t mean they aren’t infected with COVID-19.


Chloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria. It is being explored and tested as a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus.

The chemical formula of chloroquine, a synthetic substance, is C18H26ClN3. Chloroquine is sometimes abbreviated as CQ. A derivative of chloroquine is hydroxychloroquine.

While malaria is caused by a parasite (transmitted by mosquitoes), chloroquine has proven effective in treating SARS, a disease caused by a coronavirus closely related to the one that causes COVID-19. That’s why chloroquine is being tried out as a treatment for COVID-19.

Other drugs being considered for COVID-19 are remdesivir (GS-5734) and lopinavir/ritonavir.


CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a US federal agency based in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to its mission statement, the CDC:

… works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

community spread

Community spread is spread of a disease where the infection source is unknown.

According to the CDC, many sources of COVID-19 are due to exposure to a returned traveler who was infected.


Communicable means “capable of being easily communicated (spread) or transmitted.” COVID-19 is a communicable disease.

contact tracing

Contact tracing is finding out all the people who have come into direct contact with a person infected with a disease. Quarantining such people (known as contacts) and isolating them, if they become infected, helps slow the spread of the disease.


Coronavirus refers to any of various RNA-containing spherical viruses of the family Coronaviridae, including several that cause acute respiratory illnesses.

Notable types of coronavirus are SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. COVID-19 is popularly referred to as (the) coronavirus or corona for short. COVID-19 is referred to as the novel coronavirus because it is a new (novel) virus (i.e., it hasn’t been detected before). Novel coronavirus can be abbreviated as nCoV.

When looked at under a microscope, coronaviruses appear to be surrounded by a spiky array thought to look like a corona, or a crown-like shape, hence the name coronavirus.


COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus. The disease was discovered in China in December 2019 and has since spread around the world.

COVID is short for coronavirus disease. The number 19 refers to the fact that the disease was first detected in 2019.

The technical name of the virus that causes COVID-19 is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2.


An epidemic is a temporary prevalence of a disease spreading from person to person in a locality where that disease is not permanently prevalent.


Epidemiology is the branch of medicine dealing with the incidence and prevalence of disease in large populations and with detection of the source and cause of epidemics of infectious disease.

An epidemiologist is a person who studies or is an expert in epidemiology.


When a disease, such as COVID-19, spreads exponentially, that generally means the number of cases of infection increase steadily but rapidly. Without containment, such exponential spread results in a large number of infections even when an area has a small number of cases to begin with.

Continue reading for many additional definitions

by John Kelly, Dictionary.com

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