AP Style Updates: COVID-19


[Editor’s Note: Terms were updated April 12, 2022.
One of the most popular articles on prnewsonline.com is a review of AP style. We took that as a sign and decided to deliver a series of AP style updates that may be helpful when communicating about emerging topics. Our series will look at terms used in articles about cryptocurrency and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), among others.]

Let’s review COVID-19 terminology, to ensure proper use in important announcements and communications. While the 2020 print version of the “Associated Press Stylebook” squeaked a few terms before press time, up-to-date terms can be found in its online directory. If you do not have a subscription, several points of sale, including The Columbia Journalism Review (RCJ), PR Newswire’s Beyond Bylines Blog and Pointer, inform communication professionals.

The coronavirus topic guide contains 74 entries, Angela Fu wrote in Poynter in April 2021. Here is common terms to consider as you write.


“Coronavirus” is now acceptable as a first reference, even if it incorrectly implies that there is only one coronavirus. As the pandemic is over a year old, the “novel coronavirus” or “novel coronavirus” no longer needs to be used.


The coronavirus influences daily hospitalizations.

Individual protection equipment

Use “personal protective equipment” when making the first referral. “EPI” is acceptable on the second reference.


Personal protective equipment is available at the nurse’s office. Please send students here if they run out of PPE.

COVID-19 versus coronavirus

“Coronavirus” is okay when it comes to the pandemic, but it is a general virus. COVID-19 is the specific disease resulting from the coronavirus. If you use “COVID-19” on the first citation, use COVID on the second citation or to save space in headings.


The coronavirus pandemic has tested the limits of the healthcare system, with doctors and nurses treating the majority of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

Pandemic vs global pandemic

Use “pandemic” because “global pandemic” is redundant. Also avoid “epidemic” when referring to COVID-19, as it means an outbreak in a specific region.


The pandemic has wreaked havoc on international supply chains.


Use “vaccines” as a name, a product that boosts the body’s immune system. “Vaccination” is the act of giving the vaccine. Use “immunization” and vaccination interchangeably.


She stood in line for the vaccine, watching nurses run a vaccination clinic.

super spreader

“Superspreader” is one word. Use it to describe a person or an event.


Attendees now view Family Reunion 2020 as a superspreader.

Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention

When first referring, use “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”. On the second reference, “the CDC” is acceptable. You need a singular verb.


We are monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on mask wearing. The CDC said it would update its forecast on Tuesday.


“Mask wearing” and “hand washing” require a hyphen. “Contact tracing” and “remote learning” do not.


A nurse who participated in our distance learning session demonstrated the proper handwashing procedure.

Pickup versus Pickup

Use “curbside pickup”, not “curbside pickup”. Use “pick up” as a verb.


You can pick up your pizza at the restaurant’s curbside collection.


Refrain from using “anti-vaxxer” except in a direct quote, which will require a broader explanation.

Collective immunity

“Herd immunity” is acceptable when referring to a sufficient number of people who are immune, either from vaccination or from previous infection, to stop the uncontrolled spread of an infectious disease. This does not mean that a virus or bacteria is eradicated or that no one can be infected.


High immunizations can result in herd immunity, which increases the protection of all residents.

Long COVID-19

Use “long COVID-19” when referring to those whose COVID-19 symptoms persist or return for weeks or months. “Long COVID” is acceptable on the second reference. Avoid using the medical term post-acute COVID syndrome or PACS and the term “long haul”.


Hospitals are creating more outpatient clinics due to the growing number of long COVID-19 patients.

Virus variant

Refer to specific variants by letters of the Greek alphabet as assigned by the World Health Organization. Avoid using numbers, such as B.1.1.7, unless referring to a specific strain when naming a specific variant, especially for use in more detailed health and Science. Avoid using country labels like the South Africa variant.


delta variant; Omicron variant, Omicron BA.2.

Vaccine names

Use the name of the manufacturer to designate a vaccine. Exceptions include Sputnik V, from Russia’s Gamaleya center, and Covaxin (not COVAXIN), from Bharat Biotech in India.


Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Sinopharm, Sinovac and CanSino. For first reference, use “Johnson & Johnson”. On the second reference, “J&J” is acceptable.

Vaccine approval

The regulatory approval status of vaccines may vary from country to country. Describe vaccines used on a temporary, emergency basis, as authorized for emergency use; cleared for emergency use; given the green lightetc

Here are some of the terms associated with COVID-19. Learn more here LinkedIn position.

Nicole Schuman is editor-in-chief for PRNEWS. Am here @buffalo
Andre Byrd is media associate at PRNEWS.


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