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A coronavirus glossary, from ‘presumptive positive’ to ‘community spread’

What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation? What does a mild case look like? And what is social distancing, anyway?

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As COVID-19 spreads throughout the world, the language surrounding the disease continues to evolve. This glossary defines the commonly used phrases present in news coverage and conversations.

To have a term added, leave a comment or email

Community spread

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected,” according to the CDC.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert on the federal Coronavirus Task Force, said Tuesday that Florida was one of the states where community spread is occurring.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Quarantine vs. Isolation

These two terms have been used interchangeably during the COVID-19 outbreak, but there is a clear difference.

Isolation separates people who are sick with a contagious disease from those who are not sick.

Quarantine is the compulsory separation and restricted movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease. People who are well are quarantined to see if an illness develops and can last until people no longer pose a risk to others.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Conference of State Legislatures

Mild cases vs. severe or critical cases

According to WHO, 80 percent of cases are mild.

The New York Times defined mild cases as those involving lung infection, but mild to no signs of pneumonia.

The next level, severe cases, included lung issues like shortness of breath and low blood oxygen saturation.

Critical cases (the most serious level) can involve septic shock, organ dysfunction or respiratory failure.

Sources: World Health Organization and the New York Times

Outbreak vs. epidemic vs. pandemic

An outbreak is the “sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease."

An epidemic occurs “when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people.”

A pandemic is defined by WHO as the “worldwide spread of a new disease.” Pandemics can often be caused by viruses that are new or have not been spread in a long time.

WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic Wednesday.

Source: Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology and the World Health Organization

Presumptive positive case vs. confirmed case

If an individual tests presumptively positive, it means at least one respiratory specimen was tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 at a state or local laboratory.

Laboratory confirmed cases must test positive at a CDC laboratory.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Social distancing

Social distancing is a term that includes staying out of crowded public spaces, from shopping centers to stadiums. This includes cancelling large gatherings and avoiding events. Other examples of social distancing include working from home and switching from in-person lectures to online classes, as universities around the country have done.

The term also applies staying away from WHO recommends staying at least three feet away from individuals who are sneezing or coughing. This is because the virus is spread through droplets from the nose or mouth. The CDC’s definition recommends staying about six feet of away from others when possible.

Source: World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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