AP Style Updates: COVID-19

AP Stylebook

[Editor’s Note: 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 for communicating about emerging topics. Our series will look at terms used in articles about cryptocurrency and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), among others.] 

Today we take a look at common COVID-19 terminology, to ensure proper use for important announcements and releases. While the 2020 print-version of the “Associated Press Stylebook” squeaked in a few terms before press-time, up-to-date terms can be found in its online directory. If you don’t have a subscription, several outlets, including The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), PR Newswire’s Beyond Bylines blog and Poynter, are keeping communication professionals informed. 

According to an article written by Poynter reporter Angela Fu, in April 2021, the coronavirus topical guide contained 74 entries. Here are some common terms to pay attention to in your writing. 


“The coronavirus” is now acceptable on first reference, even though it incorrectly implies there is only one coronavirus. “New coronavirus” or “novel coronavirus” no longer needs to be used, since the pandemic is more than a year old. 


The coronavirus impacts hospital admissions on a daily basis. 

Personal protective equipment

“Personal protective equipment” should be used on first reference. PPE is acceptable on second reference. 


Personal protective equipment will be available at the nurse’s office. Please send students here if they are lacking PPE. 

COVID-19 vs. coronavirus

"Coronavirus" is acceptable when referring to the pandemic, but it is a general virus. COVID-19 is the specific disease stemming from coronavirus. If you use "COVID-19" on first reference, feel free to use COVID on second or to save space in headlines. 


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

Pandemic vs. Global pandemic

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


The pandemic wreaked havoc on international supply chains. 


Use "vaccines" as a noun, a product that stimulates the body’s immune system. "Vaccination" is the act of giving the vaccine. "Immunization" and vaccination can be used interchangeably.


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


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


Attendees now view the 2020 family reunion as a superspreader event. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On first reference, use “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” On second reference, "the CDC" is acceptable. It takes a singular verb.


We are watching the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on mask-wearing. The CDC said it will update its guidance on Tuesday. 


"Mask-wearing" and "hand-washing" require a hyphen. "Contact tracing" and "distance learning" do not. 


A nurse who appeared at our distance learning session showed the correct hand-washing procedure. 

Pickup vs. Pick up

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


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


Refrain from using "anti-vaxxer" unless in a direct quote, which will require a larger explanation.

These are a few of the terms associated with COVID-19. Find more at this LinkedIn post

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal