COVID-19 Terms: What Does It All Mean?

March 26, 2020

By now, you’ve probably heard the terms “social distancing,” “distance learning,” “flatten the curve,” and a whole slew of other terms that—if you’re like us—had never heard before! Terms are great (if everyone knows what they mean), but it’s a problem when that’s not the case. Take, for example, the term “social distancing.” What if you know what it means but your friends don’t? Will they be offended if you’re staying at least six feet away from them? In more typical social situations, standing many feet away from a friend might give a very different signal than just “I’m staying away because I don’t want to possibly spread or catch a virus.” So, we’re taking a moment to break down these terms in the wake of COVID-19. (By the way, wondering what COVID-19 means? CO means corona, VI means virus, D means disease, and 19 is the year it was first identified.)

Distance Learning

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Ah, distance learning—this might not need a lot of explaining because many schools have already temporarily closed, but here goes! Distance learning is when you are learning through digital and online tools, as well as in a virtual classroom. In other words, you’re learning by using tools that don’t require you to be at a physical school. Have your teachers become very tech-savvy and creative with the way they’re providing instructions or lessons and assigning homework or group projects? If you’ve never been homeschooled, distance learning may be a completely new way of learning for you (and your teachers!), so give yourself some time to get used to this new way of learning. Change is hard, but you can do it!

Social Distancing

If you haven’t been to school, hung out with your friends, or hosted a sleepover because you want to fight the spread of COVID-19 in your community, you’ve been actively doing what a lot of cities and states are telling you to do: social distancing. Social distancing may be the complete opposite of being social, but that’s the cool thing to do these days to keep COVID-19 from spreading. But what is social distancing exactly? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social distancing means that people avoid mass gatherings, crowded public areas, and maintain a good six feet from others. FaceTime your BFF instead?

Flatten The Curve

Have you ever seen a chart that looks like someone drew an outline of a tall mountain? Now, have you seen a chart where the hump of the curve is much flatter? Charts mean nothing unless you know what they mean. When it comes to experts saying that we need to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19, they mean we need to slow down the speed at which the disease is spreading so that health experts such as doctors and nurses can help those who are sick with the equipment and medicines they have on hand. Just think about it—if a hundred people are sick on the same day and there are only fifty hospital beds and respirators (medical equipment that is needed for those who have a hard time breathing), how will everyone get the treatment they need? If, on the other hand, a hundred people get sick over a period of three months rather than one day, there’s a better chance for these people to get the medical treatment they need and hospitals will have the room to take them in. So when you hear the term “flatten the curve,” that’s what it means—slow the spread so helpers have the capacity to help.

Shelter In Place

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Recently, the city of San Francisco and six other Bay Area counties issued a “shelter in place” order. Since many of us have never experienced anything like this before, it’s no surprise that this term caused some confusion. You mean don’t leave the house ever!?!?!? AHHHH! See how this term caused some confusion and panic buying (we’ll get to that term later)? In general, “shelter in place” means to stay in your house until it is safe to leave, with the exception of leaving for basic necessities like food, medical emergencies, and going to work (if your work can’t be done from home). However, the guidelines for shelter in place orders from city to city might be different. In San Francisco, for example, people are allowed to leave the house for outdoor exercise, but they can’t gather in groups. With things changing minute by minute, however, it’s best to be informed and listen to the most recent guidelines for your city. In the meantime, for those who are living in a city that’s issued a shelter in place order, try and make the best of it! Virtual playdate, anyone?

Essential Vs. Non-Essential Businesses

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Many businesses have temporarily closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but why are some businesses still operating and open? Essential (or necessary) businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies must stay open because people need food and medicine. Non-essential (not necessary) businesses, however, have either opted to shut down or have been asked by their city to shut down. After all, retail stores that sell clothing, electronics, or toys, for example, are non-essential and most likely won’t be needed to fight COVID-19. So sorry to break it to you, but that toy you really, really want will just have to wait.

Panic Buying

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If you’ve heard your parents talking about stocking up on toilet paper, it’s not a joke. The spread of COVID-19 has spread something else: panic buying! People are worried that there will be a lack of things like toilet paper and soap, so they’re stocking up on these things when they normally wouldn’t buy so much of it at one time. Despite the continued reassurance from governments that the supply chain for these items is strong, people are still clearing the shelves of these items at local stores. Who knew toilet paper would be so trendy?