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Glossary of Terms

Community mitigation

As Alaska reopens, social distancing remains an extremely important strategy. Individuals should also consider their personal level of risk. Alaskans 65 and older or anyone with underlying health conditions should continue to minimize their exposure to others, including household members who have returned to work or are going out in public.

  • Stay within your “bubble,” “squad” or household team.
  • Keep your social circle small. Go on outings with the same person or small group.
  • Keep at least six feet away from non-household members.
  • Gatherings of no more than 20 people are allowed.

(See Community mitigation, Environmental mitigation, Mitigation)

Community spread (community transmission)

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. Community spread or community transmission refers to the increase in infections from within a community, either from person-to-person contact or contact with infected surfaces. Social distancing is a practice that can help reduce community spread.

Contact tracing

Once a case of COVID-19 is identified, everyone who has come in direct contact with the sick patient is located. This is called contact tracing. Contacts are notified that they are at risk, and asked to self-quarantine and watch for signs of illness for 14 days. They are also more likely to be tested for COVID-19. People in the same household, workplace, school or church are often at risk.


Refers to limiting, or containing, the spread of an illness. Containment is done using public health interventions such as hand hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantine. Other actions may include identifying and isolating those who are ill, and tracking down anyone they have had contact with and possibly placing them under quarantine. (See: Contact Tracing) 

Environmental Mitigation

  • Routine surface cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys, refrigerator handles, desks, and door knobs.
  • In homes, childcare facilities, schools, workplaces, and other settings where people regularly gather.
  • Cleaning and disinfection.

(See Community mitigation, Mitigation, Personal mitigation)


An epidemic occurs when the spread of an illness, such as COVID-19, in an area (e.g., a city, a country, or another region) is higher than normal. (See: Pandemic)

Flattening the curve

“Flattening the curve” refers to reducing or “flattening” the size of the bell curve on the statistical chart developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to visualize the number of possible cases of COVID-19 over a period of time. Reducing the curve would indicate a reduction in possible illnesses.

Incubation period

Refers to the period of time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms begin. With COVID-19 the incubation period is thought to be between two and 14 days.


Isolation refers to people who are infected with a contagious illness—such as COVID-19. Isolation means to stay away from those who are not infected until your symptoms pass and you are determined to be no longer ill or contagious. Isolation can be done at home or in a hospital setting.


Mitigation or community mitigation refers to non-pharmaceutical interventions NPIs), which are actions that individuals and communities can take to slow the spread of respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19. Mitigation strategies may include handwashing, not touching your face, staying away from people who are sick, social distancing and regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces.


A pandemic occurs when a virus (such as COVID-19) spreads through a region country or even the world affecting a very large number of people. 

Personal mitigation

  • Wash your hands
  • Stay home
  • Social distancing
  • Cloth face coverings

(See Community mitigation, Environmental mitigation, Mitigation)

Persons under investigation (PUI)

A patient who meets illness criteria for COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or has had recent contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 but has not had laboratory testing for the virus.


Quarantine differs from isolation in that quarantine is for people who are not sick but may have been, or want to prevent being, exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The Alaska Division of Public Health recommends that people self-quarantine (voluntarily) for at least 14 days to determine whether they will become ill or be contagious.

Respiratory Specimen

Usually a nose or throat swab of respiratory secretions that can be tested in a laboratory for COVID-19.


SARS -CoV-2 is the official name for the virus that causes COVID-19. It stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is a term that refers to the practice of voluntarily and deliberately reducing or eliminating close contact with other people in order to stop or slow the spread of a contagious illness—such as COVID-19. Social distancing can include:

  • Staying at least six feet away from other people,
  • Not leaving home unless necessary,
  • Working from home (including school work),
  • Cancelling large gatherings—such as concerts, church meetings and sporting events


A virus is an extremely tiny infectious agent that able to reproduce only within the living cells of a host. Once a virus enters the host cell and takes over a cell's inner workings, the cell cannot carry out its normal life-sustaining function. The host cell becomes a virus manufacturing plant, making more virus cells that go on to infect other cells.

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