Updated date:

Top 5 Commonly Used Pandemic Terms and Phrases and What They Mean

A Learning Technologist by profession, I enjoy writing information rich articles on diverse topics.


Ever since coronavirus came into our lives, there has been a bombardment of these new “never-heard-before” phrases onto our social media feed, news and everyday conversations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about anything but the coronavirus pandemic. No matter which topic you choose, it will be overpowered with COVID-19 issue. Various new terms, phrases have been invented to address this global crisis. We will reflect on such common terms and phrases and what do they mean in this article.

Social Distancing

Texas Medical Center defines social distancing as “the act of remaining physically apart in an effort to stem transmission of COVID-19.” Social distancing measures have been employed by public health officials in different countries to curb the spread of COVID-19. Some of these measures include encouraging public and private colleges to suspend physical classes and adopt web-based learning methodology. Similarly, public and private offices have been told to set up remote work facility for their employees. Other kind of prominent measures include cancellation of telecommute and large public gatherings. These kinds of measures have been adopted to reduce the movement of people in COVID infected areas. Social distancing is believed to slow down the spread of the virus and give time to the community and authorities to plan ahead and be better prepared. If you live in an infected zone, make sure to main a distance of 1 metre or 6 feet across any individual you may come across outside.

Flattening the Curve

According to Drew Harris, a population health researcher at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, during the Spanish flu global pandemic in the year 1918, about 16,000 people from the city died within six months. A sudden upsurge in the number of infections and deaths could overwhelm the health care facilities. Such spike in the cases is typically represented on a graph with a tall, narrow curve. Authorities all over the world are trying to flatten this curve, meaning they are trying to reduce the COVID-19 infection and mortality rate. Measures such as social distancing, isolation, self-quarantine, search for an effective vaccine and cure are all part of these efforts. Flattening the curve essentially means to slow down the infection spread (since it is not entirely possible to eradicate the virus so soon) and the death rate and let it spread over a period of time. So that dealing with the patients becomes easier.

R0 or Reproductive Rate

Reproductive rate is the transmission rate of a virus. According to everydayhealth.com, the R0 value is the average number of additional people that one person with the virus will infect. However, this number depends on the lot of factor, like the potency of the virus at the given point of time and immunity of the people in the community. It also depends on how strictly people actually follow the precautionary measures stated by local healthcare authorities. Thus, flattening of the curve has a lot to do with the reproductive rate of the virus. As per the research done by nature.com, a COVID-19 carrier can infect around 2 to 3 people around him. Measles is believed to have the highest R0 value. An infected measles patient can infect around 12 to 18 people at a given point. The whole idea is to bring the R0 value to 1.

Herd Immunity

Herd immunity is said to be achieved when 70 to 80% of people in a community become immune to an infectious disease. This eventually stops the spread of the disease. There are two ways herd immunity can be achieved. First, is through vaccination and second is by allowing people to get infected which makes their bodies naturally immune to the disease. The second method is dangerous because it involves the risk of a huge number of people dying. Hence, waiting for people to naturally develop immunity to a disease is a bad idea. The best example is Sweden. Sweden employed herd immunity strategy to deal with COVID-19. Lockdown measures and quarantine measures were not implemented. Since, the idea was let people fall sick and become naturally immune. According to the scientific online publication Ourworldindata.com, Sweden’s death per capita rate was the highest in the world in a rolling seven-day average to 2 June.

New Normal

This is another top-trending pandemic term being used by many. This might also be the most annoying term for several reasons. New normal suggests a change that becomes the part of your routine. This term is being used to refer to the new adjustments or challenges many of us have to make thanks to the introduction of coronavirus into our lives. New normal includes practices such as social distancing, remote working, technology-enabled teaching and learning, wearing masks or PPE, sanitizing (well, more frequent than usual) etc. New normal might also include a new way of thinking and looking at things. This global pandemic has also been responsible for creating a heighted sense of anxiety and uncertainty amongst people. We all are struggling more and more with what is happening and what lies ahead of us. New normal is definitely not affable as it sounds.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Shruti Nimbkar

Related Articles