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Coronavirus Glossary

March 24, 2020

Mayor Michael Hancock announced March 23 that the City and County of Denver will be under a new stay-at-home order beginning Tuesday, March 24, at 5 p.m. until at least April 10. That means residents are ordered to stay at home except for trips to pick up groceries and medication and outdoor exercise that follows social distancing practices. In a news conference, Hancock said he worked closely with Gov. Polis to develop the new step. “We have to take bold moves to help the city get on the other side of this curve and flatten this curve,” Hancock said.

We are providing you with a glossary of terms related to coronavirus as a way to empower you with accurate information. You can also find reliable information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, which is the U.S. agency responsible for protecting America from health, safety, and security threats.

Coronavirus & COVID-19

Coronavirus: Coronavirus includes a family (Coronaviridae) of viruses that have crown-like spikes coming from their surfaces (corona means crown in Latin). The family of viruses includes MERS, SARS, and COVID-19.

COVID-19: COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, refers to the actual respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. People test positive/negative for COVID-19.

Cluster, Outbreak, Epidemic, Pandemic

Cluster: A cluster is a larger than expected increase of disease cases in a particular location or group of people. CDC defines cluster as “an aggregation of cases grouped in place and time.”

Outbreak: An outbreak is a sudden rise in the incidence of a disease. CDC states that epidemic and outbreak are similar, but outbreak refers to “a more limited geographic area.” 

Epidemic: An epidemic is a disease that spreads quickly, affecting many people simultaneously. The CDC explains that an epidemic “refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area.” 

Pandemic: According to the CDC, a pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. There is no specific number of cases and no specific geographic area necessary to classify a disease as a pandemic. The main difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that an epidemic is primarily national (related to one country), while a pandemic is primarily global (related to many or most countries worldwide). 

Quarantine & Isolation

Quarantine: When referring to disease, quarantine is a restraint on activities or communication of people and/or goods meant specifically to prevent the spread of disease. Typically, epidemiologists refer to quarantine for people who were exposed but who are not showing symptoms.

Isolation: Isolation separates people who are sick or showing symptoms from a contagious disease from people who are not sick. For example, people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are put in isolation. 

Social Distancing, Self-Quarantine, Sheltering in Place

Social Distancing: This simply means people staying away from other people. For example, general social distancing guidelines suggest people stay a minimum of six feet away from each other when they’re in public. The term social distancing also includes canceling large gatherings, working from home, and closing schools.

Self-Quarantine: Self-quarantine refers to people voluntarily separating themselves from others in order to help prevent disease transmission, especially in areas with widespread or ongoing transmission. Generally, people self-quarantine by staying home from work and/or school and staying at least six feet away from other people outside the household.

Sheltering in Place: Sheltering in Place refers to remaining in a safe location during an emergency. For example, people shelter in place by staying at designated hurricane shelters during a hurricane or remaining in a basement during a tornado. The term has also been used during active shooter situations. Before the coronavirus pandemic, shelter in place referred to a temporary measure to stay in a designated place until the emergency ended. Currently, various sources are using the term “shelter in place” when they essentially mean “self-quarantine.” This has caused some confusion, because sheltering in place means different things in different states. For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order that allows certain businesses to remain open and permits people to move locations when necessary (for example, driving to buy groceries or to pick up prescription medications). 

Coronavirus chart of confirmed cases by country

Flattening the Curve

Flattening the Curve: This refers to a curve in a chart that shows a surge in new COVID-19 cases. Epidemiologists want a flatter curve, which indicates a slower progression of infection. A more gradual increase gives hospitals and healthcare workers more time to respond to current patients, ideally without running out of equipment or personnel. South Korea, for example, has successfully flattened the curve.