News about the coronavirus outbreak comes in fast and furious—the terms and information can be overwhelming, complex and sometimes confusing. What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation, and what do public health officials mean exactly when they talk about terms like novel virus and COVID-19? Understanding these and other terms is key to staying informed, so you and your family can stay safe and healthy. We’re here to clear up the confusion and define 11 important terms you need to know right now.
Coronavirus vs. Novel Virus vs. COVID-19
It’s not just one type of virus; it’s a large family of viruses that can make animals and people sick, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are several coronaviruses known to cause respiratory infections in human, ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. “Corona” refers to the crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus.
The CDC explains that “Novel” simply means “new,” therefore a novel virus is a new strain that hasn’t been previously identified. The virus causing the current outbreak is a novel coronavirus.
That’s the abbreviated name of the illness caused by the newly discovered coronavirus. “The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease,” says the CDC.
Epidemic vs. Pandemic
An epidemic is an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and suddenly and affects a large number of people in a community, population or region, says the CDC.
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), a pandemic is a global outbreak. An epidemic can become a pandemic when a disease spreads over several countries or continents, explains the CDC. “On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization officially changed its designation of COVID-19, the illness caused by a coronavirus, from an epidemic to a pandemic,” says Merriam-Webster.
Person-to-Person vs. Community Spread
“COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person in respiratory droplets from someone who is infected,” says the CDC. They explain that when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, small droplets are launched into the air and can end up in the nose, mouth or lungs of someone close by. Some studies show that it may also be spread by people who aren’t showing symptoms.
Sometimes the exact cause or source of the infection is unknown. According to the CDC, community spread is when someone gets the virus in an area without knowing how or where they became infected. Merriam-Webster defines community spread as, “the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases.”
Social Distancing vs. Social Isolation vs. Quarantine
Decreasing and avoiding face-to-face contact is one of the best ways to avoid being exposed to the virus and slow its spread, says the CDC. Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors at all times. But when you do step outside for exercise or grocery shopping, you have to keep distance between yourself and people outside your home—at least six feet of distance, according to public health experts. Don’t gather in groups, stay out of crowded spaces and avoid mass gatherings, suggests the CDC.
The operative word is to isolate (or separate) sick people from healthy people, says the CDC. If you are infected with the virus, you should stay home and separate yourself into a “sick” bedroom or other space, if possible.
This serves the same purpose as social isolation. However, it is used for people who might have been exposed to COVID-19 to see if they become sick, explains the CDC. They explain that quarantine, “separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease” so they don’t unknowingly infect someone else.
The last but certainly not the least of our terms is proper handwashing. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to help prevent the virus from spreading. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Be sure to wash them often, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Here’s the proper way to wash your hands, according to the CDC:
- Wet your hands with clean warm or cold water.
- Apply soap to your hands and rub them together to lather the soap. Make sure you get the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands together for at least 20 seconds. “Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice,” recommends the CDC.
- Rinse the soap off of your hands with clean, running water.
- Use a clean towel to dry your hands. You can also allow them to air dry.
- If you don’t have access to soap and clean water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
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*If you are experiencing any symptoms or have any health-related questions pertaining to COVID-19, be sure to consult with your doctor and follow the CDC guidelines.