Words to know for the next phase of the pandemic

FILE – People wear face masks in a closed-door outdoor mall amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles on June 11, 2021. (AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes, File)

(NEXSTAR) – While omicron continues to rise in the US, coronavirus again dominates the news cycle, water cooler talk and happy hour talk – if you are still socializing and not locked in at home, that is.

A new wave of the pandemic has meant a new variant, new CDC guidance, new things to worry about and new things that make scientists feel hopeful. To help navigate the confusion of this next phase, here are some words you need to know – and make yourself feel wiser when reading the news or small talk.

Close contact, exposure

Both words are used to refer to a case where you have been near someone who has SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), which makes it possible for you to become ill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “close contact” as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. (For example, if you saw someone for 10 minutes in the morning and then again for five minutes later in the day, that counts.)

Antigen Vs. PCR

These are two different types of commonly available COVID tests. We will not go into all the complex scientific things that make the two types different, but by and large:


You may hear that this one is being thrown around a lot this winter, but flurona is not a new disease. This is when someone is infected with the flu at the same time as the coronavirus. Several U.S. states have confirmed cases of concomitant infection. To see if you have the flu, COVID-19 or both, get tested for both viruses.

Quarantine vs. isolate

The difference here is subtle. You are quarantined if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are not completely up to date with your vaccines. You isolate yourself if you experience COVID-19 symptoms or if you have tested positive. The CDC guidelines for quarantine and for isolation vary slightly, but no matter what, you are stuck at home.

Fully vaccinated

This sentence is nothing new; however, there has been some pressure on the CDC to change its definition of “fully vaccinated” to include a booster shot requirement. For now, the CDC says the significance remains the same: Someone is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving two Pfizer or Moderna shots or a Johnson & Johnson dose.

Breakthrough infection

A fully vaccinated person receiving COVID-19 has what is called a breakthrough infection. We see many such infections these days with the omicron variant, which is better than previous variants and avoids pre-existing immunity. However, the vaccines are still proving to be effective in preventing most serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.

Super immunity ”

Superimmunity is the idea that a person who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and gets a breakthrough infection will be extremely well protected against the virus in the future. Early studies suggest that immunity has improved, but with a virus constantly mutating in difficult-to-predict ways, there is much to be seen about how “super” immunity is.


Researchers in Cyprus believe they have identified COVID-19 infections that combine the omicron and delta variants. The results are isolated and more research is needed to understand the possible co-infection.

Epidemic Vs. pandemic vs. endemic

A sudden, major outbreak of disease is an epidemic. As the coronavirus spread from Wuhan in China to humans across many countries, it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Endemic refers to the expected baseline level of a disease. According to the CDC: “This level is not necessarily the desired level, which may actually be zero, but rather the observed level … the disease may continue to occur at this level indefinitely.”

At some point, the WHO will declare the global pandemic over. It seems very unlikely that we will have eliminated COVID-19 by that time, but the disease will rather be endemic. This means that it will still exist, but there will be enough vaccines and treatments to protect the vast majority of people, and the virus will not regularly disrupt the economy or society. Influenza, for example, is considered endemic.


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