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Pandemic Phrases We Never Thought We’d Use Every Day

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Key Coronavirus Terms
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COVID-19 Lingo

Just a few months ago, words like "social distancing" and "pandemic" rarely entered the daily lexicon across America. But like so many other parts of life, how we talk and the words we use on a daily basis have been rapidly and profoundly affected by the coronavirus crisis. The changes have been so significant that Merriam-Webster announced it was making an unscheduled update to the dictionary in order to add words associated with the disease and the resulting global response. The New York Times recently issued a coronavirus glossary of sorts, as did the Reuters news organization. While some of these words are new, others have been around for a while but are newly prominent or have revised definitions. Here's a closer look at the words and phrases that are suddenly part of our new normal (something else everyone is suddenly talking about all the time).

Related: Essential Changes Businesses Are Making to Reopen Safely

New Normal
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New Normal

With all of the changes unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, Americans suddenly found themselves facing, and constantly talking about, the "new normal." Just what that new reality looks like undoubtedly varies based on where you live and your own particular circumstances. But broadly speaking, the new normal is the new state of being, which has replaced our old ways of living.

Quarantine
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Quarantine

One of the most challenging parts of our new normal, quarantines are defined by Reuters as "a way of separating and restricting people who have been exposed to a disease, such as COVID-19, to see if they too have become infected and get ill." Merriam-Webster offers a variation on this term with "self-quarantine," which it says means to "refrain from any contact with other individuals for a period of time (such as two weeks) during the outbreak of a contagious disease usually by remaining in one's home and limiting contact with family members."

Pandemic
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Pandemic

While pandemic is certainly not a new word, it has become a far more commonplace part of our daily conversation. To make sure we're all on the same page about what it exactly means, The New York Times recently offered the following definition: "A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease that affects large numbers of people."

Related: 2020s vs. 1920s: Will History Repeat?

Epidemic
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Epidemic

The distinction between pandemic and epidemic is that pandemic applies to a disease that has spread to multiple countries and continents, while epidemic is a disease that has spread over a wide geographic area, though not internationally or globally.

SARS-CoV-2 virus
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Coronavirus

One of the newly revised words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, coronavirus' proper definition is "the broader name for the family of viruses that includes COVID-19."

COVID-19
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COVID-19

Used practically interchangeably with coronavirus, COVID-19 is the abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019, says Merriam-Webster.

Predictive Modeling
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Predictive Modeling

This term refers to the process of using data and statistics to predict outcomes. Often used in association with sports outcomes or even TV ratings, more recently we've heard all about the predictive modeling associated with the impact and devastation of coronavirus.

Flattening the Curve
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Flattening the Curve

A term that has become immensely important across the nation and world as we all hope for a return to normal life, flattening the curve is used to describe the "curve in a chart that shows when a surge of new coronavirus cases are expected to strike," explains The New York Times.

Super-Spreader
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Super-Spreader

We've all likely heard of these individuals in the news by now — they are, per Merriam-Webster, people who are "highly contagious and capable of transmitting a communicable disease to an unusually large number of uninfected individuals."

Community Spread
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Community Spread

An unsettling reality we have become frighteningly familiar with, community spread is "the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases," says Merriam-Webster.

Related: COVID-19 Crisis: Ways to Help in All 50 States

Social Distancing
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Social Distancing

It's probably fair to say that prior to March, the phrase social distancing was one few of us had used. Merriam-Webster describes it as a new term for most of us, adding that the word has "become ubiquitous in coverage of safe practices for preventing the spread of the disease."

Social Shaming
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Social Shaming

To go out or not go out? To shop or not? There's a significant divide in public opinion among those who believe social distancing and lockdowns should continue and those who would like to return to life as we once knew it. And while the battle of public opinion rages on about this, social shaming has become an issue. Americans upset about others violating social distancing norms have taken to social media and other forums to shame or embarrass those caught in the act. Even politicians have endorsed such responses. Themayor of Providence, Rhode Island, urged residents to socially shame anyone not wearing a mask or those gathering in large groups.

Lockdown and Shutdown
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Lockdown and Shutdown

Slightly different than quarantine and self-quarantine, lockdown and shutdown, says Reuters, are "being used by many to describe more general and widespread restrictions on movement, work and travel on all people in a city, region or country."

Related: 41 Things to Do to Before Lockdown Ends

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Items that have been in woefully short supply in this country, PPE is "specialized clothing or equipment, worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials." This is a definition provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, as Yale Medicine goes on to point out, in health care settings, PPE encompasses such items as gloves, gowns, aprons, masks, respirators, goggles, and face shields.

Related: How to Help the Essential Workers on the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Fight

Drive-Thru Testing
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Drive-Thru Testing

The term drive-thru used to primarily be associated with fast food. But as part of the national response to coronavirus, drive-thru testing is now available in some places, a process that allows you to be swabbed for the virus without leaving your car. Conducting testing this way is believed to be safer for everyone involved because it involves only minimal contact with others and as an added bonus, the process takes no more than 15 minutes.

Contact Tracing
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Contact Tracing

Yet another critical part of a world dominated by the coronavirus, contact tracing is the "practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a communicable disease," says Merriam-Webster.

WFH - Work From Home
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Zoom Background
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Zoom Background

Not all the new terminology we're using these days has such serious connotations. Zoom backgrounds, for instance, are one of the more amusing developments in our new world. With legions of people now working from home and regularly gathering with colleagues via Zoom meetings, we've taken the opportunity to showcase our personalities in new ways, including by adding favorite background photos or videos to personalize our on-camera appearance.

Related: 20 Hacks and Tips for Video Chatting on Zoom, Hangouts, and More

Dalgona Coffee
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Dalgona Coffee

While we're all busy staying home and not dining or drinking out, we're finding ever more inventive ways to appease our inner foodie. Dalgona coffee has become one of the trending foodie loves on Instagram amid the lockdown. Haven't heard of it? You may want to look it up. The pictures of this Korean coffee concoction alone will make you drool. Think: sugar, instant coffee, and milk, whipped to a frothy, picturesque perfection.

Contactless Delivery
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Contactless Delivery

Look at the websites of many of your favorite restaurants these days and you'll find this term displayed in newly prominent ways. Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Guys are just a few that have taken pains to point out and define their contactless-delivery options, which typically involve leaving food on your doorstep rather than actually handing it to you.

Related: The Most Common Complaint About Pizza Delivery

Supply Chain Disruption
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Supply Chain Disruption

As painful or irksome as it has been, we've all suddenly learned about the realities of supply-chain disruption, which is what occurs when there's either a major breakdown in production or distribution of a supply chain. Typically caused by such events as fires or machine challenges, such disruptions can also be caused by natural disasters or ... worldwide pandemics.

State of Emergency
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State of Emergency

Though this term is far from new, The New York Times felt the need to give it a firm definition for current times, describing a state of emergency as something that "can be declared during natural disasters, epidemics and other public health emergencies." The news organization points out that declaring a state of emergency provides government officials with the authority to take extra measures needed to protect the public.

Droplet Transmission
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Droplet Transmission

Understanding this term is key to grasping how COVID-19 can spread. Droplet transmission, says Yale Medicine, is "a form of direct transmission," adding: "this is a spray containing large, short-range aerosols (tiny particles suspended in air) produced by sneezing, coughing, or talking." Droplet transmission can occur in association with the coronavirus in a variety of circumstances including when an individual is in close contact with someone who has respiratory symptoms.

Fatality Rate
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Fatality Rate

Fatality rate is a term that has long been used in association with crime levels in various cities, deaths associated with medical conditions, and more. For obvious reasons, the term has also been integral to the national conversation about the coronavirus pandemic. The New York Times describes the definition of this term as "the number of deaths divided by the total number of confirmed cases."

Related: Americans' Top 10 Biggest Fears About the Coronavirus Pandemic

Incubation
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Incubation

Another word that has been around for quite some time, incubation as it applies to COVID-19 means the "time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is infected," says The New York Times.

Index Case
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Index Case

Though not as widely used in everyday conversation, the term index case has certainly played a role in the dialogue surrounding current events. Merriam-Webster defines this term as "the first documented case of an infectious disease or genetically transmitted condition or mutation in a population, region, or family." Additional variations of this term and idea include "index patient" and "patient zero." Index patient is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an individual affected with the first known case of an infectious disease or genetically transmitted condition or mutation in a population, region, or family." Patient zero is a person who is "identified as the first to become infected with an illness or disease in an outbreak."

Related: How to Disinfect Without Harming Your Stuff (or Yourself)

Outbreak
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Outbreak

No, not the Hollywood movie, but the modern reality. Yale Medicine says outbreak "shares the same definition as epidemic, with one exception — an outbreak usually refers to a more limited geographic area." COVID-19, for instance, started as an "outbreak" in Wuhan, the capital city of China's Hubei province.

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Containment
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Containment

Containment is an accomplishment that has proved elusive with regard to COVID-19. The New York Times defines this word as "the use of any available tools to mitigate the spread of a disease."

Asymptomatic
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Asymptomatic

Some COVID-19 carriers have no idea they have the virus. This type of person is often what's known as asymptomatic, which Yale Medicine defines as someone who is "a carrier of an illness but does not show symptoms."

Hydroxychloroquine
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Hydroxychloroquine

A drug many of us had never heard of before and one touted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, hydroxychloroquine is often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But various studies have shown that instead of helping those who have COVID-19, it puts patients at a higher risk of a heart attack.

Antiviral
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Antiviral

An antiviral is "a type of medicine, or therapeutic, that would be given to try and treat a person who is infected with a viral disease," says Reuters. However, the news organization goes on to point out that antivirals cannot treat diseases caused by bacteria, and antibiotics cannot treat diseases caused by viruses.

Wisconsin
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Vaccine

A widely used term long before the current crisis occurred, particularly in association with the long-raging national debate about the safety of vaccines, Reuters pinned down the definition of this word as it applies to current events. "A vaccine is something that would be given to a healthy person to prevent them from being infected with a disease such as the COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus." 

Endemic
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Endemic

Not nearly as widely used in general conversation, this word nevertheless is among those taking on newfound importance. Yale Medicine defines it as "the baseline, or expected, level of the disease in the community — meaning it always exists, like the common cold and flu, which are usually at low, predictable rates."

Cluster
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Cluster

A term widely used in news reports about the spread of coronavirus, Yale Medicine defines this as "a collection of cases occurring in the same place at the same time." Yale goes on to note that in the U.S. in February and March, early clusters of the virus were found in California, New York, and Washington state.

N95 Respirator
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N95 Respirator

How many of us, other than those in specialized professions that required them, knew what an N95 respirator was before mid-March? These look like surgical masks and form "a tight seal around the nose and mouth," says Yale Medicine. "An N95 is actually a respirator that filters out at least 95% of particles in the air." These, too, have been hard to come by amid the virus outbreak.

Ventilator
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Ventilator

These life-saving devices have also been in short supply amid the pandemic, a shocking fact for an industrialized country like the United States. Ventilators, for those not entirely clear, are machines "to help patients breathe when their lungs are damaged, and they can't get enough oxygen on their own," says Yale Medicine. "A ventilator takes over the work of breathing for a patient to allow the damaged lungs to heal."

Self-Monitoring
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CDC
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CDC

Many Americans had probably heard of the CDC prior to March 2020, but in the past two months it's become as commonly used as LOL, though there's nothing laughable about it. CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta.

WHO
The World Health Organization

WHO

Yet another initialism that's suddenly bantered about daily, like the CDC, the WHO has been a major source of information and guidance throughout the pandemic. For those still not sure what WHO stands for, it's the World Health Organization, which is an agency of the United Nations focused on international public health. It is headquartered in Geneva.

Antibodies and Antibody Testing
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Antibodies and Antibody Testing

News outlets have been mentioning antibodies quite a bit in relation to coronavirus. As the "Today" show recently explained, an antibody is "a protein produced by the immune system in response to invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses." Antibody tests, meanwhile, look for antibodies in your blood, to determine whether your body has responded to an infection.

Novel Coronavirus
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Novel Coronavirus

You may be scratching your head with all the different ways coronavirus is being referred to in the news. There's COVID-19, just plain coronavirus, and also novel coronavirus. A novel coronavirus is a "new coronavirus that has not been previously identified," according to the CDC. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (aka COVID-19) is "not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold," the CDC says.

Antigen Test
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Antigen Test

The FDA's recent approval of an antigen test in response to coronavirus was all over the news earlier this month. What exactly is an antigen test? In the case of coronavirus, the term antigen is being used to refer to foreign substances that stimulate the body's immune response. And thus, an antigen test is a diagnostic test designed to detect the presence of these substances.

Wuhan
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Wuhan

The capital of Central China's Hubei province, Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, is where the first cluster of coronavirus infections emerged.

Toilet paper
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Toilet Paper

We couldn't resist including these particular words. Granted, they're hardly new. But there were few things Americans were talking about and obsessing about more at the start of the pandemic than the dearth of toilet paper available in stores. For some reason, our collective response to the fear and panic inspired by coronavirus was to go shopping for toilet paper. And as a result, the lack of toilet paper at stores nationwide made headlines, and the search for toilet paper consumed many Americans for hours, days, and weeks. Ah, yes … the new normal.

Related: 21 Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper