Here’s the Difference Between Coronavirus and COVID-19

The importance of clear and concise communication cannot be overstated. In today’s frantically connected society we’re already at risk of misinformation. During a crisis, like the current pandemic, accurate communication becomes even more critical.

Electron Microsograph of SARS-CoV-2

To say I’ve been reading a lot about coronavirus would make me a front runner for the Understatement of the Year award (for which I would like to thank the Academy). During my online deep dives I’ve seen confusion and inconsistency in the way we discuss the virus and the disease it can cause — specifically, the tendency to use “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” interchangeably. 

So, consider this post a public service announcement for clearer communication during the current pandemic.


There are literally hundreds of different types of coronavirus that can range in severity from the common cold to SARS and MERS. We currently find ourselves dealing with another such coronavirus. Although we’re referring to it as “the” coronavirus, it’s really more accurately described as “a” coronavirus — it’s one of many.

Its official name is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2 for short. While many people do use the official SARS-CoV-2 designation (166 million Google results), if you’re referring to the virus itself, “coronavirus” is an accurate, and more common, description (7.3 billion Google results).

[Sidenote: You might also have heard it referred to as a novel coronavirus (nCoV). That’s “novel” as in “new,” not “novel” as in “something I read to take mind of the coronavirus.” Essentially, any new coronavirus is given a provisional name until the WHO comes up with its official name. In this case, nCoV became SARS-CoV-2. For now, we can stop referring to this as “novel coronavirus.”]


So how does COVID-19 fit into all of this? COVID-19 is an acronym for COronaVIrus Disease 2019. “Disease” is the key word here. COVID-19 is not the virus itself. It’s an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 

If we’re talking about the spread of the virus itself, then “coronavirus” is the correct term. If we’re discussing the disease, or the toll coronavirus is taking on individuals and healthcare workers, then “COVID-19” might be the more accurate description.

In many cases the two terms can be used interchangeably, but not always. Think before you write and we’ll all be doing our part to minimize confusion and communicate effectively. 

As we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s never been more important.