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Definitions

COVID-19 has presented us with a number of new terms and unfamiliar language. This is a glossary that may help with communications efforts. 

Visit this FAQs page for more information.

Last modified: Sept. 1, 2020, 09:56 a.m.

Asymptomatic

Without apparent symptoms. While the scientific understanding of COVID-19 and the virus that causes it is rapidly evolving, recent studies and empirical data suggest that certain persons infected with the novel coronavirus may not show apparent symptoms, and that these individuals may be able to transmit infection. The percentage of persons who are infected but never show symptoms of COVID-19 is currently unclear. Asymptomatic cases pose a challenge for public health efforts because these individuals will not know they are infected unless they are tested, and may unknowingly transmit infection.

See close contact.

(Source: Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases | CDC)

Campus facilities

Includes facilities and spaces owned, leased, or operated by the university at all locations, if not otherwise referenced in context. The same stringent cleaning and disinfecting standards are applicable to all university-owned and leased buildings across the commonwealth. All university community members at Virginia Tech facilities are required to wear a face covering when in close proximity to others in both indoor and outdoor settings, unless exempted for medical reasons. This includes classrooms, workspaces, labs, residence halls, dining halls, Blacksburg Transit, and other campus spaces when a 6-foot physical distance cannot be maintained. Some campus facilities may have limited or restricted access to visitors.

See community (Virginia Tech); face coverings.

(Source: Virginia Tech guidance)

Close contact

Public health officials must determine and define what constitutes a close contact for the purposes of individual pathogens. However, we know that viruses can't use measuring tape and don't follow arbitrary rules. The CDC uses the following criteria to help people understand which situations create the greatest exposure risk. Consideration should be given to proximity, duration, and other relevant information.

What generally counts as close contact?

  • You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for about 15 minutes or more
  • You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them, for example)
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils
  • A person with COVID-19 sneezed, coughed, or otherwise got respiratory droplets on you

Current CDC guidelines note that individuals who test positive for COVID-19 can share infectious virus 

  • If they have symptoms: beginning 2 days before symptom onset, until public health officials determine isolation is no longer needed;
  • If they do not have symptoms: beginning 2 days before the date of specimen collection, until public health officials determine isolation is no longer needed.  

(This guidance is irrespective of whether either or both parties were wearing face coverings.)

See exposure.

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC (1, 2))

Community (Virginia Tech):

The Virginia Tech community includes the employees and students of Virginia Tech, at any university location. Visitors to Virginia Tech are also considered part of the community when on campus or in a university facility, if not otherwise referenced in context.

See campus facilities.

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures)

Cleaning, disinfecting, routine cleaning, enhanced cleaning

  • Virginia Tech uses the following terminology: 
  • Cleaning: using soap and water to remove dirt and impurities.
  • Disinfecting: killing germs on a surface.
  • Routine cleaning: the standard cleaning and disinfecting process for facilities.
  • Enhanced cleaning: disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

(Source: Virginia Tech Facilities and COVID-19)

COVID-19:

The internationally-recognized designation for the disease that is caused by a newly-discovered virus in the coronavirus family. The full name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. The virus itself is officially called SARS-CoV-2, but commonly referenced in contemporary conversation as “coronavirus.” 

See novel coronavirus.

(Source: CDC)

Diagnostic testing

Diagnostic testing is used to confirm an illness, such as performing a COVID-19 test on someone with symptoms, to confirm if they are positive or negative for the virus.

Epidemic, outbreak, pandemic, cluster

  • Epidemic: an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of infection and/or disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area
  • Outbreak: carries the same definition of epidemic, but is often used for a more limited geographic area
  • Pandemic: an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people
  • Cluster: an aggregation of cases grouped in place and time that are suspected to be greater than the number expected, even though the expected number may not be known

(Source: CDC)

Exposure

Being in a situation or setting where a person could be infected by transmissible virus. Potential exposure should be considered in the context of how it may have occurred, such as proximity, duration, closeness of contact, and other characteristics. Current and emerging evidence suggests that the virus which causes COVID-19 spreads very easily and sustainably between people. Exposure from touching a surface or object that has the virus on it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but researchers are still learning more. 

See close contact.

(Source: CDC)

Face coverings

The term “face coverings” is used to emphasize an important distinction between these two categories:

  • Reusable cloth face masks (manufactured or homemade), dust masks (typically manufactured and disposable), and disposable pleated masks (non medical-grade)
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators (e.g. N95s), necessary for healthcare workers and in some research settings, and which remains in limited supply

Face coverings are worn to prevent the spread of droplets from the wearer to others. Wearing a face covering is not a substitute for physical distancing and other public health practices, rather, an additional measure. All university community members at Virginia Tech facilities, unless exempted for medical reasons, are required to wear a face covering when in close proximity to others in both indoor and outdoor settings. 

Find more information about current requirements and guidance, and instructions for safely using face coverings.

See community (Virginia Tech); campus facilities.

(Source: Virginia Tech — Continued guidance on face coverings, Guidance on face coverings and respirator use during the COVID-19 pandemic | CDC)

Isolation (and Quarantine)

Isolation: The act of separating people infected with a contagious disease (with or without symptoms) from people who are not sick, completely eliminating movement within the community while contagious. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others and follow the advice or instructions of their health care provider and public health officials. Anyone sick or infected should ideally separate themselves from others in their residence by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom, if available.

Quarantine: The act of separating and restricting the movement of people who were exposed to contagious disease to determine if they are sick. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their health care provider and public health officials. 

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC)

Masks

The term “face coverings” is used to emphasize an important distinction between these two categories:

  • Reusable cloth face masks (manufactured or homemade), dust masks (typically manufactured and disposable), and disposable pleated masks (non medical-grade)
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators (e.g. N95s), necessary for healthcare workers and some research settings, and which remains in limited supply

Face coverings are worn to prevent the spread of droplets from the wearer to others. Wearing a face covering is not a substitute for physical distancing and other public health practices, but an additional measure. All university community members at Virginia Tech facilities, unless exempted for medical reasons, are required to wear a face covering when in close proximity to others in both indoor and outdoor settings. 

Find more information about current requirements and guidance, and instructions for safely using face coverings.

See face coverings; community (Virginia Tech); campus facilities.

(Source: Virginia Tech — Continued guidance on face coverings, Guidance on face coverings and respirator use during the COVID-19 pandemic | CDC)

Novel coronavirus

A newly-discovered coronavirus (a specific family of virus) that has not been previously identified. The virus causing COVID-19 is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. 

See COVID-19.

(Source: CDC)

Pods

Pod: Pods are small groups of people who make a commitment to rigorously following safety measures, including face coverings and physical distancing, outside of the pod, so they can interact with one another more closely and in a more relaxed environment within the pod. Once established, a pod can function much like a family, where family members have committed to each other. And to help ensure the group’s well-being, each member can only be in one pod. Read more about pods.

Positives and true positives

True positive test: A positive COVID-19 test that has not been previously documented or identified. These individuals go into isolation.

Positive test: A positive COVID-19 test that has already been documented or identified. These individuals have already completed their isolation periods and are no longer considered infectious, even though the virus can still be present and detected.

(Source: Schiffert Health Center)

Physical distancing

Limiting one’s potential exposure through deliberate actions such as: 

  • Minimizing time in public spaces, both in frequency and duration. 
  • Maximizing distance from others, generally at least 6 feet of separation. 
  • Using physical barriers where feasible (e.g., face coverings, windows).

Virginia Tech uses the term “physical distancing” to describe these actions, while emphasizing that other important forms of virtual and remote social interaction exist.
(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC)

Physical spacing in the workplace

The Virginia Tech community should practice physical distancing and hygiene strategies for indoor spaces on campus to reduce exposure and limit the spread of disease. To support this approach, Virginia Tech will implement mitigation strategies that will include, among other ways, access control to unused spaces; furniture arrangements to encourage physical distancing; assigned seating; maintaining 6 feet of separation between occupants; signs indicating entryways and exit-ways; virtual meeting options; virtual access to meetings, conferences and other in-person gatherings; and metering the number of occupants at facilities. More details will be published when available.

Visit vt.edu/ready/employees for more information.

See classroom distancing, See physical distancing.

(Source: Virginia Tech guidance)

Pooled testing

Pooled testing is the simultaneous analysis of multiple samples. If the analysis produces a positive result, the individual samples can then be analyzed to identify the positive sample. At Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 Lab at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, which has recently received FDA approval for pooled testing, the lab will test four samples at once, and the method will expand the lab’s capacity. 

Prevalence testing

Prevalence testing is random testing of a population of people who are assumed to be non-symptomatic in order to compare the number of people who have the virus with the total number of people tested in order to understand the actual percentage of the population that is infected.  

Probable COVID-19 case

(Source: CDC)

Public health and hygiene practices

The combination of physical distancing and hygiene practices conducted by the community at large to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, if not otherwise specified in context. General recommendations include: 

  • Avoid close contact with people outside your residence or household, as well as those in your residence or household who are sick (at least 6 feet of separation).  
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.  
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer.  
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning product.  
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.  
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. 

Everyone should practice physical distancing as much as possible in their daily lives, and follow current recommendations or requirements, as applicable, for the use of face coverings.

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures)

Quarantine (and Isolation)

Quarantine: The act of separating and restricting the movement of people who were exposed to contagious disease to determine if they are sick. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their health care provider and public health officials. 

Isolation: The act of separating people infected with a contagious disease (with or without symptoms) from people who are not sick, completely eliminating movement within the community while contagious. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others and follow the advice or instructions of their health care provider and public health officials. Anyone sick or infected should ideally separate themselves from others in their residence by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom, if available.

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC)

Research

These operations will continue to be reviewed and adjusted as appropriate with the goal of moving from “essential operations” status to a modified operations mode. Specific guidelines and requirements regarding university-affiliated research is in effect and will be reviewed in an ongoing fashion.

(Source: Virginia Tech — Research Continuity Guidance for COVID-19)

Surveillance

Epidemiological surveillance is the cornerstone of effective public health. Surveillance systems are designed to detect the emergence and spread of infection within both the general community and the Virginia Tech community. A group of experts is developing a comprehensive university-wide plan for COVID-19 testing, followup, and case management for the fall semester. The group includes epidemiologists from the university and regional health departments, researchers, information technology professionals, health care professionals, and wellness experts. Information will be forthcoming.

(Source: Virginia Tech guidance | CDC)

Surveillance testing

In surveillance testing, groups of individuals who are assumed to be healthy are tested more frequently in order to make predictions on how an illness spreads in populations. Virginia Tech’s surveillance testing strategy focuses on three testing categories that will continue through the fall 2020 semester: high-contact employees, ongoing student population testing, and student-athlete testing. (Surveillance testing is different from diagnostic testing. A diagnostic test is used to confirm an illness, such as performing a COVID-19 test on someone with symptoms to confirm if they are positive or negative for the virus.)

Symptoms of COVID-19

The scientific and medical understanding of COVID-19 continues to evolve. A range of symptoms have been reported, including: 

  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Headache 
  • Sore throat 
  • New loss of taste or smell 
  • New gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)

See asymptomatic.

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC)

Vulnerable individuals

The CDC identifies vulnerable/high-risk individuals as older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions. Those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include: 

  • People 65 years of age and older 
  • People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well-controlled, including:
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma 
  • People who have serious heart conditions 
  • People who are immunocompromised 
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or higher) 
  • People with diabetes (type 1, type 2, and gestational) 
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis 
  • People with liver disease

(Source: Virginia Tech Guidelines for Implementation of Public Health Measures | CDC)