All the Coronavirus Vocabulary You Need to Understand What’s Happening

Do you actually know what social distancing means?

As news about the COVID-19 outbreak continues to update by the second, so too does the vocabulary attached to it. To better understand what the coronavirus pandemic means for the Hudson Valley (and the world), there’s no time like the present to read up on the new-to-you lingo.

From “flattening the curve” to “social distancing,” here’s how to speak the language of the disease and combat it effectively.


According to the Center for Disease Control, coronaviruses are actually a family of viruses that impacts people and a number of different animal species. MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV are two types of coronaviruses that began in animals and spread to people.

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A member of the family of coronaviruses, COVID-19 was officially announced by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020 in response to the 2019 outbreak in Wuhan, China. An abbreviation, it equates to “CO” for corona, “VI” for virus, “D” for disease, and “19” for 2019.


As Merriam-Webster explains it, an epidemic is “an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time.”

Flatten the Curve

What’s “the curve,” you ask? It represents the rate of the virus’s spread in society over time. Depending on the disease’s infection rate, the curve could either be very steep or very flat. A steep bell curve means the virus spreads exponentially, while a flat curve signifies that the virus spreads at a more manageable rate. The key is that the curve never surpasses a point beyond what the healthcare system can manage; hence the need to “flatten the curve,” or reduce the rapidity of the outbreak so as not to stress the healthcare industry to a point where it can no longer keep up with the demand for treatment.

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Isolation is the state of one who is alone, otherwise known as solitude or seclusion. Self-isolation helps prevent the potential spread of diseases like COVID-19.


When an epidemic extends over a wide geographic area or impacts a high proportion of people, it becomes a pandemic.


A state of enforced isolation, quarantine can either be self-regulated or enforced on a public scale.

Shelter in Place

As the term suggests, shelter in place means to remain in a secure place, usually at home, until it is a safe time to leave. Due to the spread of COVID-19, seven counties in the San Francisco Bay area are under shelter-in-place instruction.

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Social distancing

Wondering what social distancing means, exactly? In keeping with COVID-19 best practices, social distancing is the act of maintaining an appropriate level of separation from others so as to lessen the potential spread of a virus. To distance socially, the Center for Disease Control advises against public gathering of more than 10 people, especially when they have the potential to impact high-risk populations (such as the elderly or immunocompromised persons). As per New York State regulation from March 16, crowd capacity must be reduced to a maximum of 50 individuals at a time.

More questions about COVID-19 and what it looks like for the Hudson Valley? Follow along with our coronavirus coverage here.

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