Our politicians, public officials and friends seem to have developed a new language these days, talking about “flattening the curve,” “social distancing” and “zoonotic disease.”

If you need to catch up on the difference between self-isolation and quarantine, we’ve got you covered. Our glossary to coronavirus terms is below.


While “coronavirus” has commonly come to mean the specific virus spreading around the world right now, technically speaking, it is the name of a family of viruses. Some of these cause a common cold, while some of them, like SARS or MERS, are more dangerous.

That’s why you’ll sometimes see references to the “novel coronavirus” or “new coronavirus,” meaning the virus everyone is currently talking about.


COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms include high fever, shortness of breath and coughing.

It stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.”


This is the technical name for the new coronavirus. Being infected with SARS-CoV-2 can cause COVID-19.

Social distancing

“Social distancing” refers to a number of measures designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, essentially by keeping people away from each other so they don’t pass along the virus.

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