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Community spread. Social distancing. Shelter in place. When the coronavirus arrived in Idaho, it ushered in a wave of terms relatively unknown to the general public only a month before. Those terms now have a very real effect on Idahoans’ lives. Below is a list of words and phrases relevant to the coronavirus and what those words and phrases mean.

Community spread: When health officials say they’ve detected “community spread” of the coronavirus, it means the person infected didn’t have known contact with the virus, nor did they travel to a place experiencing a known outbreak. The detection of community spread is considered to be an indicator of an outbreak’s increased severity, because it shows the virus is more prevalent within a given community.

Coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause illness in humans and animals. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The new coronavirus is really a new strain of a coronavirus; scientists don’t know much about the new strain. The name “corona” comes from the Latin term for crown. The virus has crown-like spikes on its surface, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19: The disease that is caused by the new coronavirus. It stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” The COVID-19 was first discovered in China in December.

Flatten the curve: A phrase used by public health officials to describe an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The “curve” in this phrase refers to upward swing in the number of positive cases of the coronavirus. If the curve is too steep, public health officials warn, the health care system will not be able to accommodate all the new cases at once. Thus, efforts to “flatten the curve” aim to slow down the number of people who are sick with COVID-19 at any one time.

Martial law: Martial law is “the imposition of military control over civilians,” according to the Associated Press. When martial law is imposed, civilian courts are shut down and military justice is used. Martial law is currently not in place in the United States right now in response to the coronavirus. Governments have used the option in the past — the Associated Press reports Hawaii spent much of World War II under martial law, and President Abraham Lincoln imposed martial law during the Civil War.

Pandemic: A disease that has spread across a wide geographic area and affects a large population of people, according to Merriam-Webster’s website. It’s a more severe version of an epidemic. The World Health Organization on March 11 declared the current outbreak of COVID-19 to be a pandemic; the disease has since spread to every continent except Antarctica.

Isolation: Isolation means keeping a person who is currently sick separated from other people, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is different from quarantine, which is defined below. Thus, if a person has decided to “self-isolate” it means they are separating themselves from others because they are sick.

Quarantine: Quarantine is used to restrict the movement of people who are currently healthy in order to stop the spread of an illness, according to Health and Human Services. Quarantine cuts down on exposures to the illness because it keeps people who may be carrying a pathogen — but not displaying symptoms — from unknowingly spreading it to other people. Likewise, if a person decides to “self-quarantine,” it means they are feeling well but are separating themselves to help stop the spread of an illness.

Shelter in place order: An order from a state to stay at home unless residents work for a list of businesses deemed “essential.” Employees of those businesses may travel to work and to do their jobs, but that is all the travel permitted. There are also exemptions for people getting groceries, prescriptions and other necessities. States vary in the particulars of their shelter in place orders. Some states refer to them as “stay at home orders,” which aren’t much different from shelter in place orders, according to the Indianapolis Star. This is less restrictive than martial law.

Social distancing: A list of practices meant to keep people from spreading an illness to one another. Social distancing is different from isolation or quarantine. It generally means person-to-person contact and gathering in large crowds is limited. Public health experts recommend staying at least 6 feet apart to practice effective social distancing.

Social distancing order: An order from a government that is less serious than a shelter in place or stay at home order. Social distancing orders in the Treasure Valley have, so far, focused on mandating people stay at least 6 feet apart, and required businesses to shut down if they cannot make accommodations for all their customers to stay 6 feet apart.


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