Over the past few weeks, the global COVID-19 pandemic has served to change much in the day-to-day lives of average citizens, including vocabulary.

While terms such as “social distancing” and others are now part of the public vernacular, what do they really mean?

Below is a list of related terms and their proper definitions according to government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment:

Novel coronavirus: An informal name for COVID-19, the term simply refers to a “never-before-seen” coronavirus that has “not been previously identified.” Coronaviruses are nothing new, appearing predominantly as mild respiratory infections and colds in their most common forms. However, other serious outbreaks of coronavirus have occurred in the past as well, including the SARS and MERS outbreaks.

Asymptomatic carrier: In this case, an asymptomatic carrier is a person or other organism that has become infected with COVID-19, but that displays no signs or symptoms. Although unaffected by the virus, carriers can transmit it to others or develop symptoms in later stages of the disease. Current symptoms reported by patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing, although additional, severe symptoms can appear in individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Incubation period: This term refers to the amount of time between initial exposure to COVID-19 and the first appearance of symptoms. Currently, the incubation period for COVID-19 can last as long as 14 days.

Social distancing: As it applies to COVID-19, the CDC defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet, or 2 meters) from others when possible.” The blanket term can also simply refer to the practice of remaining indoors and venturing out in public only when absolutely necessary.

Self-quarantine: Self-quarantines are usually undertaken by individuals who believe they may have already been exposed to the virus and include precautions such as staying at home, not having visitors and practicing recommended hygiene techniques. The CDC recommends individuals who believe they’ve been exposed should remain in self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

Shelter-in-place/Stay-at-home order: This type of order would entail an official mandate from city, county, state or federal officials to remain at home, unless attending “essential” activities or work. There are no set guidelines for what determines this kind of order, meaning a possible variance between localities. Depending on your location, the order could alter the definition of what is considered essential or even entail punishments for violating set guidelines. For instance, San Francisco’s order details that violating the mandate is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both. No such punishments currently exist for municipalities in Kansas.

Martial law: Martial law is the imposition of direct military control of normal civilian functions by a government, especially in response to a temporary emergency such as invasion or major disaster. While rumors have circulated about communities under martial law in Kansas, the claims have been debunked.

Essential businesses/services/activities: Individual governments may be able to define what they consider essential and non-essential, but there are some general categories to keep in mind — health care (doctors, dentists, nurses, hospitals, pharmacies, medical research facilities, blood donation services, labs, etc); food and drink production and distribution (including grocery stores, markets, restaurants that offer food for carryout, liquor stores); sanitation (including laundromats, dry cleaners, household and business cleaning services and supply stores); transportation (including railroads, airports, public transit, taxis and other private transportation providers, and gas stations); financial services (including banks, insurance providers and professional services required to comply with legal and regulatory requirements); manufacturing and distribution of supplies and materials for essential businesses (including trucking and other supply chain support functions); maintenance and construction of infrastructure and households; child care; government operations; residential facilities (including hotels and motels); media and communications providers; and mailing, shipping and delivery services.

Of course, individual businesses owners are free to close as they see fit. A full list of closings and cancelations due to COVID-19 can be accessed at emporiagazette.com or The Gazette Facebook page.

(1) comment


Great article, but after reading the essential services, it seems to include nearly everything and puts everyone out in the public, which is necessary, but I just don't see any real purpose to the stay-at-home order since so many businesses have been forced to close or reduce what their business does already. I do wonder how far the restrictions and enforcement will go. Actually, there are 4 corona viruses that circulate and are considered "mundane" compared to the seasonal influenza, so they don't get much attention. I do think if more people concentrated on what science says about corona virus, it might be enlightening and actually make people more comfortable. I like this website: https://www.livescience.com/ but there are many others. Thank you Gazette for these new world definitions.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.