A Quick Guide of Coronavirus Terms

Check back for updates to this list as new coronavirus-related terms are added.

Apr. 1, 2020 4   min read

Coronavirus glossary of terms

As we learn more about the virus each day, health officials are introducing new terms to the public that you may not have heard before. Rochester Regional Health has created a list of the most important coronavirus-related terms. 


A mask-like device that’s worn over the mouth and nose that prevents the inhalation of harmful substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends healthcare professionals wear a specific type of respirator, called an N95 respirator. N95 respirators fit tighter around the nose and mouth.

  • Protective mask that fits tightly around the mouth and nose
  • N95 respirator is recommended for healthcare workers to protect from COVID-19
  • Not recommended for non-healthcare professionals


A machine that helps a patient breathe. A ventilator pumps oxygen into the lungs while removing carbon dioxide through a tube. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, ventilators are essential pieces of equipment for patients with serious symptoms like shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

  • A machine that helps patients with breathing problems breath
  • Essential equipment in the fight against COVID-19

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is protective clothing, gloves, gowns, masks, or other garments or equipment that protect healthcare workers from infection. PPE is essential in the fight against COVID-19.

  • Protective clothing like gloves, gowns, and masks
  • Essential for healthcare workers
  • Helps protect against the spread of COVID-19

Shelter in Place

A shelter in place is an order for all people of an area or region to stay indoors except to conduct essential activities. A shelter in place has been ordered in counties across several states including Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, and Missouri. New York State residents have been ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Order to stay indoors
  • Used in emergency situations
  • Several US states have issued shelter-in-place orders

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is the process of learning everything we can about where an infected person has been and who they have been in contact with. When a positive case is confirmed, officials perform contact tracing to track down other people who may have come in contact with the patient and advise them to quarantine, self-isolate, or get tested if showing symptoms.

  • Retracing an infected patient’s steps
  • Notifying the public that they may have come in contact with the virus
  • Helps prevent community spread

Social Distancing

The key strategy in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC asks that you maintain a distance of six feet from other people when possible.

  • Helps prevent spread of COVID-19
  • Stay six feet away from other people
  • Work from home and avoid places
  • Also known as physical distancing

Read why social distancing is so important

Community Spread

When a disease like the new coronavirus spreads in a community or area but health officials don’t know how the disease is spreading. It’s a strong indicator that a virus is no longer contained.

  • When a disease spreads in a community
  • Source of spread if unknown
  • Often means a virus is not contained

Flattening the Curve

Flattening the curve refers to slowing the rate of the spread and reducing the burden of the coronavirus on the healthcare system. The top of the curve represents the peak number of cases that are growing at a faster rate than hospitals and healthcare centers can manage. If social distancing is successful, we will flatten the curve and keep up with the number of patients who need care.

  • Spreading out infections in a population over time
  • A graphic that shows how people can reduce the burden on the healthcare system
  • The end goal of social distancing 


R-naught is a metric used to determine the average number of people who can become infected by one person. The R-naught of COVID-19 is between 1.5 and 3.5 according to the Imperial College of London. This means that for every one person infected, there will be as many as 3.5 more positive cases.

  • Tells us how many people are infected by one person
  • Can increase and decrease depending on the rate of spread
  • Also known as the “basic reproduction number” 

Drive-thru Testing

Drive-thru testing allows individuals to be tested for COVID-19 by driving up to a test center, remain in their car, and take a test. Drive-thru testing can increase the speed of testing while decreasing the risk of spread. Patients must be referred by a healthcare provider. Rochester Regional Health provides drive-thru testing.

  • Patients can get tested from their car
  • Reduces the risk of spread
  • Increases the speed of testing


When a person shows no symptoms they are asymptomatic. This is dangerous for the spread of the coronavirus since some people who are infected may not show symptoms (asymptomatic) but can be carriers and spread the disease to others. This is one of the reasons the CDC recommends social distancing and staying home as much as possible.

  • When a person shows no symptoms
  • Asymptomatic people can carry and spread a virus


A comorbidity is the presence of one or more diseases or conditions in a person at the same time. Long-term or chronic health conditions are considered comorbidities. Other terms that are used interchangeably are coexisting conditions and multiple chronic conditions. Patients with comorbidities are at a greater risk of serious illness if infected with COVID-19.

  • When a patient has multiple diseases or conditions at the same time
  • Examples include heart disease and obesity, or high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Patients with comorbidities are at a greater risk of adverse effects from COVID-19


The branch of medicine that deals with the prevalence of disease in large populations, as well as the source, causes, and prevention of spread.

  • The study of disease in large populations
  • An epidemiologist is an expert in epidemiology


A pandemic is a type of epidemic that describes a disease that impacts an entire country or the whole world. A pandemic is an epidemic on a national or global level. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic because of the fast rate at which the virus is spreading.

  • An epidemic on a national or global scale
  • When a virus spreads quickly over a significant geographical area
  • COVID-19 declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020

Pandemic or Epidemic: What’s the difference?


An object that can assist in the transmission of an infectious agent. Examples include bedding, towels, surgical instruments, and door handles. The CDC says there is evidence that the new coronavirus can spread via fomites.

  • An object like bedding, towels, and door handles that help the spread of disease
  • Early evidence suggests COVID-19 can spread via fomites
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