Tech & Science dictionary

COVID-19

or covid-19 or coronavirus disease [ koh-vid-nahyn-teen ]

What does COVID-19 mean?

COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus. The disease was discovered in China in December 2019 and has since spread around the world.

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).

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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

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Where does COVID-19 come from?

COVID-19, also called coronavirus disease, 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, as of the beginning of March 2020, have led to an outbreak in over 60 countries across the globe, including 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 human 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:

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.

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 a new disease.” The US government has declared a public health emergency. So far, COVID-19 has caused over 16,000 deaths, and over 370,000 cases have been confirmed around the world.

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 at our article on the difference between quarantine and isolation.

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.

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

Who uses 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) 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 an 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).

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Note

This is not meant to be a formal definition of COVID-19 like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of COVID-19 that will help our users expand their word mastery.