COVID-19 Glossary photo

COVID-19 Glossary

Common Terms and Definitions

Asymptomatic means a person does not feel sick. Some people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be asymptomatic, which means they do not feel sick.

Symptomatic means that a person feels sick. Some people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) may be symptomatic, which means they feel sick and may report fever, cough, shortness of breath, and other flu-like or virus-like symptoms.

Community Spread means that people are catching COVID-19 as they go about their daily lives. Closing schools and businesses and maintaining social distance helps prevent community spread, or people from catching the virus as they go about their lives.

Flatten the Curve is a term used to describe intentionally slowing the spread of COVID-19 so that fewer people need to seek medical treatment at any given time. Through social distancing and proper hand hygiene and other precautions, we can slow the spread of the disease so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed by a large number of people seeking care at the same time.

Incubation Period is the time between catching the virus and feeling sick. According to the CDC, the incubation period (the time from catching the virus to feeling sick) is between 2 and 14 days. On average, the COVID-19 incubation period is 5.2 days, with 97.5% of all people who develop symptoms doing so within 11.5 days.

Intubation means that a tube was placed into a patient’s airway through the mouth so they can be put on a ventilator. If a patient is not getting enough oxygen, a doctor may intubate them and place them on a ventilator, which is a machine to help them breathe.

Novel strain refers to a new type of virus. Coronaviruses have been around for centuries, but COVID-19 is a novel strain, or a new type of the virus.

Pathogen is a germ that causes disease. Coronavirus germs can spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, and produces droplets through talking or even while walking.

Patient Zero refers to the first person with the virus in a new area. Patient zero are the words we use to identify and describe the very first person who had the virus in a new area.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes special masks, face shields, clothing, gloves, and other items used by healthcare workers. Healthcare workers use personal protective equipment (masks, clothing and gloves) to prevent them from getting the virus.

Respiratory Disease refers to a lung disease. Someone with a lung disease, or problems breathing, may be at an increased risk of complications from the virus.

Respiratory Droplets are tiny drops of saliva and mucus from your nose, mouth and lungs that can spread when you cough, sneeze, walk, speak or sing. If you have the coronavirus and are seeking medical care, you will be asked to wear a mask to prevent tiny drops of saliva from infecting others.

Social Distancing (Physical Distancing) means to avoid public spaces and keep 6ft of distance between you and other people. If you need to leave your home for an essential reason, keep a minimum of 6ft between you and other people.

Super-Spreader is a person who spreads the virus to many more people than average. While anyone with COVID-19 can spread the virus, 1 in 5 people may be super-spreaders. That means they may spread the virus to more people than we would expect.

Transmission is when the virus passes from one person to another. People who are infected but don’t feel sick can still pass the virus to others.

Underlying Conditions are health problems not caused by COVID-19. Patients who have underlying health conditions (other health problems not caused by the virus) are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

Ventilator is a machine that pushes air into a person’s lungs to help them breathe. If patients can’t get enough oxygen, doctors may need to use a ventilator, which is a machine that pushes air into their lungs.

Compare Terms

Outbreak: Many people sick with one illness in one area.

Vs. Epidemic: Widespread and rapid infection of one illness in one area.

Vs. Pandemic: Many people sick from one illness around the world.


Self-Isolation: Separating yourself from others because you are sick.

Vs. Self-Quarantine: Separating yourself because you may have been exposed to a sick person.

Vs. Shelter in Place: Staying home (regardless of whether you are sick or have been exposed), and leaving home only for essential needs such as performing essential work or getting food and medicine.


Surgical Mask: Disposable face mask worn to prevent droplets from coming out or going in.

Vs. N95 Respirator: Special protective mask that filters tiny particles and viruses.

Vs. Face Shield: A clear device that protects the entire face from splashes and sprays.

Vs. Cloth Mask: Homemade masks that are used by individuals to slow the spread of COVID-19. Cloth masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.


For the latest COVID-19 information in Matagorda County, visit the COVID-19 Public Information Page here.

For the Matagorda Regional Medical Center’s medical provider directory, click here.

The COVID-19 “plain language” information above was adapted from a free communication tool produced by Aha Media Group. Header and social media images retrieved from CNN and the University of Oxford.

This update was generated by MRMC’s Public & Media Relations Team based on information shared by our employees, community members, and/or partners. If you have any questions or comments, or if you believe that the information displayed here is incorrect in whole or in part, contact the Public & Media Relations Team directly by clicking here.