Early in the pandemic, terms like “bending the curve,” “facial coverings” and “antigen tests” became part of dinner-table conversations.

Every new development of the coronavirus pandemic introduces the public to words phrases and data points normally bandied about by public health workers, scientists and researchers.

With the introduction of vaccines and a push to find a way to open businesses and get children back in school a number of words and phrases have risen to the level of everyday conversations.

We explain what some of the current buzzwords being used to talk about the pandemic for this week’s installment of FAQ Friday.

Herd immunity

This term got a lot of attention in the spring and summer when Sweden did what most nations didn’t do and kept society open. By doing so, the nation became an experiment on whether herd immunity could be achieved before a vaccine was developed.

Herd immunity is again gaining attention with vaccines now on the scene. Herd immunity is when enough people are immunized or immune to disease that it doesn’t spread to unprotected people. Scientists have estimated about 70% of a population needs to be inoculated against SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, to reach herd immunity.


The Sweden experiment didn’t work. According to Reuters’ COVID-19 tracker, 596,174 Swedes have been infected with COVID-19. That is almost 6% of the Scandinavian nation’s population and far below what scientists and public health researchers say is needed to gain herd immunity.

Washington’s health officer, Dr. Umair Shah, said in a Jan. 15 interview with The Seattle Times that the state’s goal is to vaccinate at least 70% of the population older than 16.

“My goal is that when our kids are ready to go back to school in the fall … that we have enough adults vaccinated so our kids can go back to school safely in person. We are at 15-20,000 doses a day. We need to at least double that.”

According to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the seven-day average for vaccines given per day is 26,479. DOH’s goal is 45,000 per day.

What is the difference between a mutation and a variant?

A number of recently identified variants of SARS-CoV-2 have public health officials worried because they either appear to be more transmissible, can reinfect people who have recovered from COVID-19 or are more effective at escaping some vaccines.

A new variant of a virus doesn’t happen without mutations. A single mutation isn’t likely to force major changes to a virus, but when a number of mutations happen, a new variant of the virus occurs can gain an advantage like becoming more transmissible.


The new B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in September in the United Kingdom and is believed to be 30% to 50% more contagious, has been confirmed in a number of people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties and in a University of Washington student.

Do you have questions about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

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