Glossary of COVID-19 Terms

  1. Asymptomatic

    Asymptomatic refers to someone who has no symptoms. In the case of COVID-19, this refers to someone who has:

    • Recovered from the COVID-19 and no longer has symptoms
    • Never develops any symptoms of COVID-19 although they test positive for the disease
  2. Close Contact

    In the case of COVID-19, a close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of a COVID-19-positive person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before that person’s illness onset or positive test result. 

    The public health evaluation of close contacts to patients with laboratory-confirmed or probable COVID-19 may vary depending on the exposure setting. 

  3. Community Mitigation

    There are several actions that individuals and communities can take to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among their families, friends, and communities. In general, the more cases that exist in a community, the more likely COVID-19 will spread to others. Also, the more people an individual interacts with, and the longer each interaction lasts, the higher the risk of viral spread. Location can be a factor, too, with outdoor activities generally being less risky than indoor activities. Mask wearing, social distancing, and good hand washing are all mitigation strategies.

  4. Community Spread

    Community spread refers to the local spread of the virus. This can include some people who are not sure how or where they became infected. Each health department determines community spread differently based on local conditions.

  5. Contact Tracing

    Contact tracing involves notifying contacts of confirmed cases to whom they may have been exposed. Contact tracing includes asking very detailed questions to assess activities leading to potential exposure. In addition, contact tracing includes guidance on isolation or quarantine, monitoring for signs and symptoms, and arranging testing when it is appropriate. 

    In the case of clinical and lab settings, PPE often mitigates the risk of proximity and length of exposure. In these cases, the contact tracing team will ask very detailed questions about these interactions to ensure the appropriate risk is assigned. These risk levels vary as public health guidance changes. 

    Working collaboratively with contact tracers is critical to the success of limiting the spread of infection. 

  6. COVID-19

    On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan, China. 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. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

    There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans .


  7. Novel Coronavirus

    A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

  8. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    Personal protective equipment is the protective equipment worn by health-care workers and front-line staff when caring for patients with certain infectious diseases, including COVID-19. These include gowns, gloves, eye protection, surgical masks and respirators. It is also used to refer to masks worn by the general public.

  9. Quarantine and Isolation

    Quarantine and isolation are public health measures used to reduce or prevent the spread of illness.

    Quarantine refers to separating a healthy person or group of healthy people away from others due to their exposure to a contagious disease such as COVID-19. Quarantine includes the advice to stay home, increase cleaning of common areas (e.g. bathrooms, kitchens, shared living spaces), physically distancing from others, and wearing your mask at all times unless alone in your bedroom. 

    Isolation refers to separating the individual with a contagious disease such as COVID-19 away from others. Do not travel, go to class, work, or participate in any social activities. Limit the sharing of bathrooms and common areas (e.g. kitchens, living rooms) with others, and stay in your room alone as much as possible.  People in isolation should order food in or ask a friend to drop off groceries. Wear a mask anytime you are outside of your bedroom. Do not host friends or small gatherings. Do not attend small gatherings.

  10. SARS-CoV-2

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the strain of coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the respiratory illness responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  11. Screening

    Screening refers to a test or procedure that looks for diseases before people have symptoms. In the context of COVID-19, screening University students, faculty, postdocs, and staff allows for early identification of COVID-19, even in persons without symptoms, and allows for those individuals to be isolated to prevent spread of the disease.

    Screening test at the University is no longer a requirement, as of August 1, 2022.

  12. Symptomatic

    Symptomatic is used to refer to individuals who show symptoms of a disease. In the case of COVID-19 these symptoms may include cough, fever, loss of taste or smell, and others.

    When someone has the common symptoms associated with a disease or condition, they are considered symptomatic. When a disease exists without noticeable symptoms, the person is asymptomatic.

  13. Symptoms (of COVID-19)

    People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

    •    Fever or chills
    •    Cough
    •    Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    •    Fatigue
    •    Muscle or body aches
    •    Headache
    •    New loss of taste or smell
    •    Sore throat
    •    Congestion or runny nose
    •    Nausea or vomiting
    •    Diarrhea

    This list does not include all possible symptoms. CDC will continue to update this list as it learns more about COVID-19.

  14. Test for COVID-19

    A viral test detects virus in the individual at the time of testing and can only tell someone whether or not they are infected at that moment. If they test negative, they can still remain at risk of infection. If they test negative and then start to feel sick, they need to get tested again. A viral test cannot tell someone whether they were infected before. They will need an antibody (blood) test to show that.

  15. Test, PCR

    Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay, a very accurate type of viral test. Nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs are often used to collect samples for PCR tests. Anterior nares—lower nostril, less-invasive—nasal swabs, and saliva, are also used for sample collection. 

  16. Test, Saliva-based

    COVID-19 can be detected in the saliva and therefore a saliva-based sample is an alternate way to initiate COVID-19 PCR testing. This sampling method is less invasive than a nasal swab. The test performs as well as a nasal swab for detecting COVID-19. 

  17. Testing, Close Contact

    This refers to testing of someone who has been in close contact (i.e., within 6 feet, of a person with a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes) and does not have symptoms.

  18. Testing, Diagnostic

    Diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2 is performed when there is a reason to suspect that an individual may be infected, such as having symptoms or due to a suspected recent exposure. It can also be used to determine resolution of infection. 

    Those who may be referred for diagnostic testing include:

    • Symptomatic individuals who present to their healthcare provider, 
    • Individuals identified through contact tracing efforts, 
    • Individuals who indicate that they were exposed to someone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, 
    • Individuals present at an event where an attendee was later confirmed to have COVID-19.
  19. Testing, Screening

    Screening tests are intended to identify infected individuals without symptoms who may be contagious so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission. Individuals who are eligible for screening will be instructed to enroll and participate in regular screening testing. They will be informed of their results in a timely manner so they can protect themselves and others if their test result is positive for COVID-19.

    Screening testing is just one tool in the University’s public-health toolbox to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus and the surrounding communities. Screening testing is performed on a regular basis on asymptomatic individuals with no known exposure to COVID-19, and is intended to identify and monitor COVID-19 positivity rates among the University community. 
    Screening testing is only beneficial if individuals are tested on a regular, ongoing basis to assess positivity rates in a population. Screening testing is not a service to be used for personal and/or travel testing-related documentation.

    Screening test at the University is no longer a requirement, as of August 1, 2022.

  20. Testing, Surveillance

    Surveillance testing is used to gain information at a population level and results of surveillance testing are returned in aggregate rather than at the individual level. Surveillance testing may sample a certain percentage of a specific population to monitor for increasing or decreasing prevalence and to determine the population effect from community interventions, such as social distancing. An example of surveillance testing is a plan developed by a state public health department to randomly select and sample a percentage of all individuals in a city on a rolling basis to assess local infection rates and trends.

  21. Testing, Symptomatic

    Symptomatic testing is conducted for individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19.