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Terminology for coronavirus and COVID-19

Essential coronavirus (COVID-19) terms you need to know and how to use them.

What it means

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold. This new strain of the virus causes severe acute respiratory syndrome.

COVID-19 is a new, highly contagious type of coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another by coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces or objects handled by a person who has the disease.

Corona comes from the Latin and Greek word for crown. This refers to the characteristic appearance of the virus, which has crown shaped tips on the spikes of the virus.

COVID-19 stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019. The number 19 comes from when it was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

When to use it

Use coronavirus when you are talking about the virus and the pandemic in more general terms, such as:

  • coronavirus advice
  • coronavirus outbreak
  • coronavirus cases, coronavirus case management

Use COVID-19 to refer to the illness itself, such as:

  • a person with COVID-19
  • symptoms of COVID-19
  • taking a COVID-19 test
  • COVID-19 hospital admissions

Example: a person working in a hospital is at risk of catching coronavirus, a patient in a hospital is recovering from COVID-19.

How to use it

The two terms are often used interchangeably as many people are not sure of the difference. It is now common practice to include both when talking about the virus itself as it helps people find information, even if they don’t know which one is right.

Use other key words or actions in your content to help users find what they are looking for, such as: advice, symptoms, test, outbreak, shielding, data.

When referring to coronavirus only:

  • use coronavirus followed by COVID-19 in brackets: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • use capital C when it’s at the start of a sentence and lower case everywhere else
  • do not use other combinations of the two terms like: coronavirus / COVID-19, coronavirus or COVID-19, COVID-19 (coronavirus).

When referring to COVID-19, either on its own or with coronavirus:

  • always use capital letters, a dash and 19 in numerical form
  • do not use variations such as covid 19, Covid-19, COVID 19.

If you are not sure which one to use, use coronavirus (COVID-19) to cover all possible scenarios.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan city, China.

NHS Inform – coronavirus (COVID-19) general advice

If you have had a positive test result you should follow all the guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

NHS Inform – coronavirus (COVID-19) common questions

Coronavirus (COVID-19): daily data for Scotland (page title)

Gov.scot – coronavirus (COVID-19) daily data

Public health officials are investigating a Covid-19 cluster at university student accommodation.

BBC News Scotland – Coronavirus in Scotland: Cluster probe at student accommodation

Trusted sources for coronavirus (COVID-19) information, advice, news and updates

  • Renfrewshire Council
  • NHS Inform
  • SCOT
  • World Health Organisation (WHO)
  • BBC (online, radio, television)

Who it applies to

People at risk

Anyone is at risk from catching the virus. Many people who catch the virus may have moderate or no symptoms. However, it can be fatal for vulnerable groups of people, such as

  • the elderly
  • people with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, severe asthma, severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease
  • pregnant women

People affected personally by COVID-19

  • people receiving medical care for COVID-19, including hospital patients, people self-isolating or people recovering from COVID-19
  • people who have COVID-19
  • people who may have COVID-19
  • people at risk of catching COVID-19

Contacts of people affected by COVID-19

  • families
  • neighbours
  • colleagues
  • dates / hook ups
  • community based contacts such as tradespeople, shopkeepers, chemists, hairdressers, delivery drivers, gardeners, public transport religious leaders, vets etc.

Professionals in medical settings where there are patients with COVID-19

  • doctors and other clinical professionals, like physiotherapists, oncologists, service managers, nurses
  • hospital or GP surgery staff like receptionists, practice managers, cleaners
  • emergency responders, ambulance drivers, the police
  • porters, cleaners, caterers
  • morticians and undertakers

Education, social or community or child care providers

  • teachers, school staff, school nurses, nursery staff
  • community nurses, home helpers, volunteer visitors
  • private childminders

Community groups

  • charity or voluntary organisations, like foodbanks
  • informal groups like running clubs, dog training groups.

Organisations involved in the pandemic

  • medical and scientific organisations treating COVID-19 patients
  • research and development organisations analysing global, national and local coronavirus cases, outbreaks and patterns
  • pharmaceutical organisations looking for and testing potential vaccines
  • manufacturing companies providing equipment like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or ventilators
  • local, regional and national government bodies providing services during the coronavirus pandemic and due to the coronavirus pandemic, managing coronavirus cases and informing the population of the current situation, changes to restrictions, routemaps and strategies.
  • news and broadcasting outlets, social media channels

Other associated terminology

  • symptoms
  • symptomatic / asymptomatic
  • transmission / community transmission
  • cluster: where COVID-19 cases are found in one place like a hospital, factory or school
  • outbreak: where different clusters are found to be linked across a wider geographic area, town or village
  • Test and Protect: Test and Protect is Scotland’s approach to preventing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.
  • positive / negative test
  • confirmed case / cases
  • contact tracing
  • self-isolate / self-isolation / self-isolating
  • shielding
  • close contact
  • households
  • quarantine / self-quarantine
  • physical distancing / social distancing
  • face coverings (not face mask or mask)
  • hand washing (not hand hygiene)
  • sanitiser / hand sanitiser (not sanitizer / hand sanitizer)
  • compliance
  • Restrictions / local restrictions
  • lockdown
  • circuit breaker
  • furlough / furlough scheme
  • national guidance
  • route map
  • vaccine
  • treatment
  • long covid
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • key workers
  • ventilator
  • epidemiology
  • Pandemic: an epidemic that has spread over several countries, usually affecting a large number of people.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO): the agency tracks disease spread worldwide.
Catherine O'Regan
Catherine joined Renfrewshire Council in August 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. She aims to make online content clear and easy to understand, so everyone can access council information equally.