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COVID-19 Glossary for Employers and HR Managers

Because information about the coronavirus pandemic is changing by the hour, it’s more important than ever for employers and HR personnel to use the correct vocabulary when communicating with employees and business partners.

For example, do you know the difference between self-isolating and self-quarantining? Or what it means when an employee says they are a PUM because they lacked PPE? Neither did we until we started this glossary.

We will be updating this list of pandemic terms frequently over the next few weeks to help you pick the right words when creating your crisis communication emails, newsletters, phone scripts and advice for telecommuting. We hope our simple explanations will help you use this 'new to us' vocabulary clearly and concisely.

We have also included terms your employees might use when communicating with you. During a time of crisis, it takes a village to keep everyone physically and digitally safe. If you know of any terms we've missed or would like to help us clarify usage for the terms we've included, please contact us.

COVID-19 Pandemic Glossary

Active monitoring -- daily assessment of an infected person at least once a day by authorized healthcare or public health staff.

CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) -- U.S. legislation passed on March 27, 2020 to provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- the U.S. government agency responsible for tracking and confirming the spread of COVID-19.

Cohorting -- isolating patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the same designated area of a healthcare facility.

Community spread -- some people in a specific area have been infected with the virus without being able to trace how or where they became infected.

Contact -- a person who has been exposed to someone else who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact tracing --  the identification and location of persons who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.  Tracing can be managed digitally through smartphone apps or be conducted manually through telephone calls and snail mail.

Coronavirus -- a family of common viruses that cause illness, including the common cold and seasonal flu.

COVID-19 -- a new (novel) version of the coronavirus. COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease of 2019.

COVIDIOT -- disparaging term often used in social media to describe someone who fails to honor health and safety guidelines.

Furlough -- a temporary layoff, after which people will return to the job they held before being furloughed. Typically, furloughed employees are not paid during the shutdown period, but do retain healthcare benefits.

Deep cleaning -- the neutralization and removal of a dangerous pathogens; it involves first washing and then disinfecting all surfaces that could potentially spread the contagion.

Direct contact -- the result of coming within six feet of an infected person.  In some areas of the world, tests for coronavirus are only given if the person in question has been in direct contact with another person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Drive through testing -- a strategic approach in which Individuals remain in their vehicles while medical staff in protective gear administer a swab test for COVID-19.

Flattening the curve -- slowing down the spread of the virus so that hospitals and supporting infrastructure do not become overwhelmed due to having too many sick patients at the same time.

Fomite -- an inanimate object or surface that a virus uses as a temporary host.

Gig worker -- synonym for freelance worker. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act includes unemployment benefits for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

Hand hygiene -- a well-established medical protocol for hand washing in which soap and/or alcohol-based sanitizer is used to reduce the transmission of harmful pathogens.

Herd immunity -- a tipping point at which time enough people in a population have become immune to the virus through vaccine or recovery from illness that it slows the spread of the contagion to an acceptable level. 

Immunity passport - proposal to test for COVID-19 antibodies in the population and give people who test positive an immunity passport that allows them to go back to work.

Incubation -- the time it takes for symptoms to appear once a person is infected. According to the CDC, the new coronavirus has an incubation period of 2-14 days.

Infodemic -- a situation in which the general public is overloaded with conflicting information from a wide variety of sources.

Intermittent distancing -- proposal to periodically limit social interactions in specific geographical areas to prevent a resurgence of infection.

Layoff - the employee is permanently let go. The word layoff implies that the firing was not due to poor performance; before an employee who has been laid off can return to their old job, they must be rehired.

Medical face mask -- facial covering intended to protect caregivers and health-care workers against droplet-transmitted pathogens.

PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator) -- a full-body suit with helmet that healthcare workers must wear when treating patients who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Passive monitoring -- relies on self-assessment by the affected person. See also: Active monitoring

PUI (Person Under Investigation) -- someone who has exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 but has not yet tested positive for the virus. 

PUM (Person under Monitoring) -- someone who appears to be healthy but has recently been in direct contact with another person who has symptoms or has tested positive for the virus.

PPE (personal protective equipment) -- face masks, shields and gloves worn to provide protection from communicable illnesses. PPE should either be disinfected after use or disposed of after use.

Physical distancing – staying six feet (or two meters) away from other people in order to prevent or slow the spread of infection.

Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) -- a group of organizations within a specific area that share healthcare-related information electronically according to accepted healthcare information technology (HIT) standards.

Respiratory hygiene -- covering your mouth and nose during a cough or sneeze. Respiratory hygiene should immediately be followed by hand hygiene to reduce the virus’ ability to spread.

Self-isolation -- staying away from the rest of the population for at least two weeks after experiencing symptoms or testing positive for the virus.

Self-quarantine – staying away from the rest of population even though there is no sign of illness.  

Shelter in place -- government mandate for people in a specific geographical area to remain at home except for conducting essential activities like grocery shopping -- or performing a job that requires a person’s physical presence.

Social distancing -- limiting social interactions to less than ten people in order to prevent or slow the spread of infection.  During the COVID-19 outbreak, it has been suggested that the term "physical distancing" be used in place of social distancing.

Sick out -- a form of peaceful protest in which an individual or group of individuals call in sick (instead of walking out) in order to make a point about healthcare concerns in the workplace or avoid legal issues associated with a formal strike.

State of emergency -- a declaration that gives government officials the authority to take extra measures to protect the public.

Telecommuting -- the ability for an employee to complete work assignments from outside the traditional workplace by using telecommunications tools such as email, phone, chat and video apps.

WHO (World Health Organization) -- the part of the United Nations that is responsible for sharing information related to healthcare.

Virus -- a type of germ or microbe that requires a host because it is incapable of replicating on its own. Unlike bacteria, which can self-replicate and have a benign presence in the human body, most viruses cause disease and can be quite specific about which cells they attack.

Zoom bombing -- security exploit in which a threat actor hijacks a video conference in order to deliver pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language. To prevent Zoom bombing, security experts recommend users make all meetings private, set screen-sharing options to "host only,"and avoid sharing Zoom links on social media.

Zoom fatigue -- weariness caused by the end user's brain having to interpret information on multiple video screens simultaneously. 

This was last updated in April 2020
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