We’re All In This (COVID-19 Vocabulary) Together

We all have a ‘new normal’ these days: whether it’s following a stay-at-home mandate (not the same as sheltering-in-place) or working on the front lines (THANK YOU!) or homeschooling kids, the one new thing we all have in common is a ‘virus vocabulary.’

Familiarizing yourself with the language and phrases of COVID-19 is essential to managing your professional and personal life during this extraordinary time.  For instance, did you know there’s a difference between ‘stay-at-home’ and ‘shelter-in-place?’ Emailing or posting an inaccurate phrase is not best practice for any business, but especially now, when people are craving facts and need reassurance from business and community leaders.

Merriam-Webster even made an unscheduled update (on March 18, 2020) to its dictionary in response to the pandemic, according to the Texas Medical Center.


Coronavirus – A family of viruses that target and affect mammals’ respiratory systems. (Novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.)

COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus Disease 2019) – The disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Shelter-in-place vs. stay-at-home – Shelter-in-place orders are given when residents are in imminent danger and must stay inside their homes and should not leave at any cost, even for essential errands. This mandate is given when there’s a natural disaster looming (tornado, hurricane, etc.) or if there’s criminal activity (armed shooter, e.g.) in a localized area.

A Stay-At-Home order Utilized during this outbreak, is more lenient. The same principle applies, but citizens are allowed to go to work (if they are deemed an essential business) or to buy groceries. During the order, all non-essential businesses remain closed and public gatherings are prohibited.

Self-isolation vs. self-quarantine – Self-isolation means separating a sick person from a healthy population. Self-quarantine refers to separating people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Social distancing – Staying 6 feet away from everyone in public; no more handshaking, hugging, or standing too close to anyone at work or while you pick up essential prescriptions or groceries.

Flatten the curve – With social distancing and proper hand-washing, we slow the spread of infection. Fatalities should decrease, hospitals get more time to treat, and scientists have more time to discover therapies and create a vaccine.

Pandemic vs. epidemic – The word “pan” (which roughly means “all”) refers to the global nature of the spread, affecting virtually every country. An epidemic impacts a more localized region. Before COVID-19 spread globally, it was considered an epidemic in China.

PPE – Personal Protective Equipment: the gloves, masks, protective eye-wear, full body suits necessary to minimize a person’s exposure to harmful materials. PPE supplies are in high demand in every state – so much so that there’s been a cry for help to the public to make masks for healthcare workers and others on the front line of COVID-19.

N95 masks The ‘N95’ designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. The general public does not need to wear these masks, but healthcare workers need them as they are exposed to the coronavirus on a regular basis.

WFH Work from home: as employers close their doors for the safety of their employees and to adhere to social distancing, people across the country find themselves working from home (or working remotely) – discovering new skills needed to stay productive while miles away from their team.


Zoom – An online meeting tool where one person (manager, teacher, everyday person) hosts a session through their computer or smartphone. It works best if you have a camera on your PC or phone, but audio is a requirement.

BlueJeans – Used by universities and large tech companies, this is a video conferencing and virtual meeting platform.

Google HangoutsAn app used to keep in touch by messaging friends or using video or voice calls. Primarily used for personal ‘get-togethers’ and not professional meetings.

GoToMeetingA web-hosted service to host online meetings, desktop sharing, and video conferencing. It enables the user to meet with other computer users, customers, clients or colleagues via the Internet in real time.


Some of these words may be familiar and others may be brand-new. Whether they become a fleeting addition to your language or something you’ll start using regularly, we hopefully can all agree on the words that we should be saying more often during this pandemic: “How can I help?” “What do you need?” “We’re all in this together.”

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