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What does all the coronavirus terminology really mean?

Here are a few of the terms and phrases you're likely hearing all over in relation to the 2019 coronavirus
coronavirus notebook

As coverage about the new coronavirus continues across the world, it’s likely you’ve encountered a number of terms and phrases relating to the virus that may create some confusion. 

To help clarify what some of this terminology means, Moose Jaw Today staff has put together a list of terms that are being used in relation to the current coronavirus pandemic and laid out what, exactly, is meant when those words are being used.

  1. Coronavirus and COVID-19

    The terms coronavirus and COVID-19 are currently being used interchangeably to reference the respiratory virus that is spreading through populations right now, but a coronavirus is actually a family of viruses that are all related but somewhat different.

    The World Health Organization prefers the term COVID-19, as that references the disease caused by the virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

    COVID-19 is an acronym for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

    SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that is related to the coronavirus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, but the two are different viruses. To avoid confusion, the WHO has chosen to refer to this coronavirus event as COVID-19.

    COVID-19 is caused by a respiratory virus spread primarily through the saliva or nasal discharge when a person sneezes or coughs, or through other methods of encountering those bodily fluids.

  2. Novel coronavirus or new coronavirus

    Many media sources are also referring to COVID-19 as the novel coronavirus or the new coronavirus. This simply means that it is the coronavirus that has most recently been discovered affecting humans. 

    The WHO referred to this virus as 2019 novel coronavirus until the virus was named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes was labelled COVID-19.

  3. Pandemic

    The current outbreak of coronavirus is being referred to as a pandemic, which often holds connotations that create fear in some. 

    The term pandemic simply refers to a new disease that has become prevalent over a whole country or world. Because the new coronavirus has been reported present in 190 countries so far, the WHO has classified it as a pandemic.

  4. Presumptive positive cases

    As new cases of COVID-19 are being reported, it’s likely they are being described as presumptive positive cases

    This means that the case in question has tested positive by a testing kit at a local public health location. Saskatchewan has 26 testing sites operating throughout the province. 

    That presumptive positive case will then go on to be tested in a formal laboratory for confirmation, where it then becomes a confirmed positive case. The Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory is handling such testing in Saskatchewan.

    Presumptive positive cases are being treated as positive cases by medical professionals.

  5. Symptomatic cases and asymptomatic cases

    It's important to remember that the number of cases being reported by in your area are cases that have been tested — or symptomatic cases, as they are individuals displaying symptoms. 

    There are also asymptomatic cases, which would be individuals who do not exhibit any symptoms but are still carrying the virus. Asymptomatic cases are still able to transmit the virus, officials say.

  6. Social Distancing

    The Government of Saskatchewan is encouraging everyone in the province to adhere to the practice of social distancing, but it may be unclear as to how that differs from self-isolation or quarantine. 

    Social distancing, during this time, means avoiding close contact with others. The difference between individuals who are practicing social distancing and those who are practicing self-isolation is simply the risk factor. Social distancing is how the entire community can help slow the spread of the virus before it infects, while self-isolation occurs after potential exposure to the virus has already happened. 

    The Government of Saskatchewan has implemented a recommended policy of remaining 2 metres in distance away from other people when in public.

  7. Self-isolation

    Self-isolation, when used in the context of the COVID-19 response from the Government of Saskatchewan, means isolating oneself for 14 days and practicing social distancing, even within the household. 

    This means staying home from all public places and activities, including work, school, public events or meetings, religious gatherings, errand running, and social obligations, to name a few. 

    The individual is also meant to be remaining separate from other members of the household to avoid spreading the virus and using separate living quarters and bathroom if possible. They should also not have any visitors enter the home. 

    The mandatory self-isolation has been set at 14 days because experts say that it can take up to 14 days after exposure for symptoms to develop. 

    If the individual in self-isolation is possibly exposed to the virus again during the initial 14-day isolation, for example by a household member who is ill, they must start their isolation period over again.

  8. Close-contact

    Public Health continues to warn people to avoid close contact, which can mean a lot of things. 

    In terms of social distancing, close contact refers to touching other people in any way. In most situations, touching public surfaces — like door handles or counters, for example — cannot be avoided, which is why washing your hands with soap and water as often as possible is hugely recommended. 

    For those discussing the possibility of exposure to the virus, close contact can mean being in physical contact with a person with COVID-19 without wearing appropriate protective equipment or having been in contact with bodily fluids of a person with COVID-19.

    It is also considered close contact if you have been within two metres of someone with COVID-19 in your living situation, or shared personal items such as utensils drinking cups with someone with COVID-19. 

    Airplane passengers seated within two metres of an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 are also considered to have been in close contact. 

    Fleeting interactions with a person with COVID-19, such as walking past them on the street or standing less than two metres apart in the same room, are not considered close contact.

  9. Self-monitoring

    Saskatchewan residents have also been asked to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. 

    This just means paying attention to your body — watch for a rise body temperature or development of a cough or shortness of breath, which could be symptoms of COVID-19.

    Self-monitoring is not practiced only in self-isolation, but it is recommended to practice social distancing while you self-monitor.

  10. State of emergency

    On Mar. 18, the Government of Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency in the province. 

    The phrase “state of emergency” gives the government the power to make social changes to limit the threat in question — in this case, the spread of the new coronavirus. 

    While being in a state of emergency does not automatically mean that all public life is shut down, it does mean that the government now has the ability to move around resources or impose policies that normally they are not permitted to do.