Glossary of Pandemic-related Terms

These tests detect the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the blood of patients, and indicate that the patient has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 at some point (though not necessarily presently). These tests require a blood sample to perform, and can be rapid (~15 min - 1 h). Some antibody tests can detect different types of antibodies, called IgM and IgG, while others just detect the presence of any antibodies against the virus. Patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 will test positive for IgM antibodies starting around 7-10 days post-exposure, and remain IgM-positive for 2-4 weeks. Patients will test positive for IgG antibodies around 14-21 days post-exposure, and typically will remain IgG-positive for months to years. Patients that are positive for IgM but not IgG are likely earlier in the course of infection; those that test positive for both are likely toward the end of their infection; those that test positive for only IgG have likely resolved their infection. Because it has not been established whether the presence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 is protective against subsequent infection, antibody tests are useful to determine the prevalence of the virus within a population (i.e. how many people have been infected), but should not be used for clinical determinations about whether a patient is capable of being re-infected at a later date.

An “antigen” is a viral protein; antigen tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection are relatively new and are now starting to make their way onto the market at higher levels. These tests can be rapid (~15 min - 1 h), although they are less sensitive than PCR tests. They can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 proteins, though not necessarily infectious virus. Patients will test positive on an antigen test typically starting around the same time they would with a PCR test (perhaps one day later). It has not been widely established how long patients remain antigen positive, though it is likely much shorter than the PCR tests. Samples for antigen tests are collected similarly to PCR samples.

Individuals who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 but do not have, and will never, develop symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals may still transmit the virus, though they are less likely to do so than symptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals.

An individual who may have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 following contact with an infected person. Read the CDC definition of close contact.

Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days prior to illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity, the duration of exposure (e.g., longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the individual has symptoms (e.g. coughing likely increases exposure risk) and whether either the case patient or contact were wearing an N95 respirator. At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.

Please be advised: the Madison County Department of Public Health has been using a 10 minute standard for defining close contacts.

Coronavirus disease 2019

A disease syndrome (cluster of associated symptoms and clinical signs) associated with infection by SARS-CoV-2.

An epidemiologic term for the process of trying to identify cases of a disease within a population, through the targeted or random testing of individuals or through sampling from a common source, such as wastewater.

An epidemiological designation for individuals that share residential space and are therefore assumed to be “close contacts” with each individual in the residence. In consideration of the unique environment of a residential college, Colgate is further defining two types of “family unit.”

  • Direct Family Unit: Person(s) a student shares a bedroom or suite with. Individuals within a direct family unit can inhabit the same residential space (dorm room) without wearing a face covering (though roommates should come to an agreement about this; no one should sleep in a mask) or observing physical distancing restrictions (though these restrictions still apply outside of the residential space). 
  • Extended Family Unit: Persons a student shares a bathroom and/or kitchen with. For traditional residence halls, this would be the floor. In a townhouse/Broad Street house/apartment, this would be the house/apartment. Masks and at least 6 feet between individuals are required within the extended family unit.

Levels of restriction on in-person interactions that allow for a phased re-opening of the Colgate campus in line with, and responsive to, changes in the metrics for community health.

The separation of individuals who are sick or have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 from the community to prevent them from potentially infecting other individuals. Positive individuals must isolate until:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and
  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever reducing medication, and
  • Symptoms have improved
  • Patients that have tested positive with no symptoms (asymptomatic infection), must isolate until 10 days have passed since their positive test.

Students that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 will be placed into isolation in designated spaces at the Wendt University Inn, unless additional medical care is required. Faculty and staff should isolate in their primary residence, and stay in a specific “sick room” or area and away from other people or animals, including pets. They should use a separate bathroom if possible.

PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction, a technique used to detect the presence of specific sequences of DNA or RNA (genetic material). This type of test is used to diagnose current or recent SARS-CoV-2 infection, as it detects the presence of viral genetic material (RNA), though not necessarily infectious virus. These tests are highly sensitive (able to detect very low levels of viral RNA), and typically take between 24 h to 48 h to return results (though this time may change based on the volume of samples being processed, and the specific type of test used; some can return results in as little as 45 minutes). Infected individuals will typically test positive within 2-5 days post-exposure (though a small number of patients may not test positive until 10-14 days post-exposure), and typically within 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms (which occurs, on average, 5 days post-exposure). Patients may remain “PCR positive” for several weeks to months after infection. However, in these cases it is highly unlikely that they remain infectious for this duration; the vast majority of patients are no longer infectious within 10 days of the onset of symptoms, despite perhaps remaining “PCR positive.” Samples for PCR tests are collected via nasopharyngial swab (NPS; the “long” swab) or anterior nares swab (the “short” swab), although saliva samples are in the process of regulatory approval.

Keeping space between individuals to reduce the risk of transmission. Current guidelines recommend a distance of at least 6 ft. between people to minimize the risk of droplet-mediated transmission.

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 prior to the development of symptoms, which typically manifest within 5-7 days of exposure. These individuals are in the incubation period of the viral infection, and may transmit the virus to other individuals (with highest risk in the period shortly prior to symptom onset).

The separation of individuals who have potentially been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from the community to monitor them for infection and prevent them from potentially infecting other individuals. This semester at Colgate, there will be two types of quarantine for students:

  • Universal arrival quarantine: All students must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days upon arrival, at least until the results of a second PCR test have been returned for all students. This quarantine will occur in students’ residential spaces, and roommates will be considered as “family units.” Information on the guidelines for the universal arrival quarantine can be found here. Students in universal arrival quarantine should self-monitor for symptoms (including temperature checks) daily, and report any symptoms to Student Health Services for follow-up
  • Close contact quarantine: Students that are identified as a “close contact” of a COVID-19 positive individual must quarantine for 14 days post-exposure. Close contact quarantine will occur in designated spaces at the Wendt University Inn, although students who can return to their primary residence for the duration of quarantine will be strongly encouraged to do so. Students in close contact quarantine should self-monitor for symptoms (including temperature checks) at least twice a day, and report any symptoms to Student Health Services for follow-up.
  • Faculty and staff members that need to quarantine, either following travel to an area designated by New York State as requiring quarantine, or following “close contact” with an infected individual should quarantine in their primary residence; if this is not possible, Madison County has designated spaces to house individuals in quarantine.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2

The strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A space in a Colgate building that is able to be monitored by a Colgate staff or faculty member on a regular basis. Examples include the ALANA Cultural Center and the Memorial Chapel basement. Note that in some spaces, supervision — and therefore use of the space — may only be possible during regular business hours.

The term “testing” can refer to multiple different types of measurements that allow physicians to assess whether patients are currently infected with, or have been infected with, SARS-CoV-2:

  • “PCR” testing
  • “Antigen” testing
  • “Antibody” or “Serology” testing
  • Wastewater testing

Each of the terms above is defined further with an entry in this glossary


Many patients shed viral genetic material in their stool, which can be detected in wastewater via PCR testing. Studies have shown that detection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater can occur up to a week prior to patients in the sampled population reporting symptoms, allowing for the opportunity to identify asymptomatic individuals prior to, or only shortly after, they are capable of infecting others, thereby reducing the ability of those patients to spread the virus within the population.