[ koh-vid-nahyn-teen ]


, Pathology.
  1. coronavirus disease 2019: a potentially severe, primarily respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus and characterized by fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. In some people, the disease also damages major organs, as the heart or kidneys.

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Spelling Note

COVID-19 (all capital letters) is the spelling used internationally by scientific and medical professionals and their related organizations, which corresponds with the American convention of capitalizing an acronym such as AIDS or SARS. However, Covid-19 (spelled like a proper noun with an initial capital letter followed by lowercase letters) is the less obtrusive form used by several prominent media, such as The New York Times and The Times of London. And it is not uncommon to see both forms shortened to just COVID or Covid, respectively. The lowercase form covid is considerably less common in edited text.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of COVID-191

Short for co(rona)vi(rus) d(isease) (20)19, the year in which the outbreak of the disease was first identified; so named by the World Health Organization in 2020


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About This Word

What is COVID-19

COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus. The disease was discovered in China in December 2019 and then spread around the world, causing an unprecedented public health crisis.

For health, safety, and medical emergencies or updates on the novel coronavirus pandemic, please visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization).

What are some variants of COVID-19?

  • Covid-19
  • covid-19
  • covid

How did COVID-19 become a pandemic?

COVID-19, also called coronavirus disease 2019, is the name of the disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The virus and disease were first detected in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, and since led to an outbreak all countries across the globe, especially in the US.

While the coronavirus disease is popularly referred to as just coronavirus, coronavirus actually refers to a large family of viruses which can cause illnesses in humans and many animals. Some of these illnesses are rare but severe respiratory infections, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and, as most recently discovered, COVID-19.

On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially named this novel coronavirus COVID-19. COVID is short for coronavirus disease. The number 19 refers to the fact that the disease was first detected in 2019, though the outbreak occurred in 2020. Novel coronavirus can be abbreviated as nCoV.

The technical name of the virus that causes COVID-19 is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is genetically related to, but not the same as, the virus that led to the SARS outbreak in 2003. SARS is deadlier than COVID-19, but less infectious.

Coronaviruses contain RNA and are spherical. Under a microscope, the viruses appear to be surrounded by a spiky array thought to look like a corona, or crown-like shape, hence the name coronavirus.

The source of the new coronavirus is believed to be an animal. The virus spreads through droplets from the mouth and nose of a person with COVID-19 after coughing, sneezing, and exhaling. Other people can then pick up the virus by breathing in these droplets or coming into contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the droplets (such as by touching an object and then touching parts of the face).

This is why it’s important to frequently wash your hands—among other practices—to reduce the risk of spreading or getting the virus. Please watch this video from the WHO for tips on protecting yourself and others from COVID-19:

<iframe loading="lazy" src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe>

Common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Less common symptoms experienced include aches and pains, a runny nose, and diarrhea. Some people infected with COVID-19, however, don’t show symptoms or feel sick at all; they’re called asymptomatic, and can still spread the disease.

According to the WHO, most people (80%) recover from COVID-19. However, COVID-19 can develop into a severe illness, especially in older people or people who already have medical conditions.

The WHO has officially classified the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, which it defines as “a worldwide spread of a new disease.”

Update: As of July 5, 2020, COVID-19 has caused over 528,000 deaths, and over 11,125,000 cases have been confirmed around the world; the United States alone has had nearly 3 million cases and almost 130,000 deaths.

Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 include social distancing, a term for measures (such as avoiding mass gatherings) taken to reduce close contact between people. Learn more about social distancing and related terms in our coronavirus glossary.

Health professionals emphasize that protective measures like social distancing can flatten the curve. Flatten the curve means slowing the spread of an epidemic disease so that the capacity of the healthcare system doesn’t become overwhelmed. The curve represents the number of cases over time, and flattening that curve means preventing a huge surge of new cases in a very short period of time—which is extremely challenging for health officials to handle. Slowing the spread of an epidemic in this way is known as mitigation.

By June 2018, many countries around the world slowed the spread of COVID-19, while others saw a spike in cases after reopening businesses and easing stay-at-home and social-distancing orders.

The COVID-19 situation is continuing to evolve. Again, for help and information, please visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization).

Additional facts about the term COVID-19

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease caused by a newly discovered type of coronavirus.

COVID-19 is sometimes written in lowercase as covid-19. Popularly, COVID-19 is referred to as COVID (or Covid and covid) for short. The disease is also commonly referred to as coronavirus, and corona for short. But, keep in mind that coronavirus is technically the name of a family of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Rona, roni, (the) rona, and that/dat rona have emerged as a jocular, informal name for the disease, especially in jokes on Black Twitter.

Once again, for help and information, please visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization).

More examples of COVID-19:

“Test kits for the new coronavirus are now becoming more widely available in the U.S. And a surge in testing will likely cause an increase in identified cases of the COVID-19 illness … ”
—@NPR, March 2, 2020

“A genetic analysis suggested that the coronavirus, which causes a highly infectious respiratory disease called covid-19, has been spreading undetected for about six weeks in Washington state.”
—Siobhán O’Grady, Kim Bellware, Katie Mettler and Michael Brice-Saddler, Washington Post, March 2, 2020

“More than 100 Boulder County residents have tested positive for the respiratory disease COVID-19 since last week, making it the largest surge of novel coronavirus cases in the community since March — and public health officials warn more infections could be on the way.”
—Jessica Seaman and Meg Wingerter, Denver Post, June 17, 2020