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The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak finally has an official name

The lack of name for the outbreak left journalists improvising for nearly two months.

The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak finally has an official name
[Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images]

The World Health Organization has finally named the Wuhan coronavirus disease. The new name is . . . drumroll, please:

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COVID-19

co = coronavirus
vi = virus
d = disease
19 = 2019, the year it was first reported

As professionals who frequently write headlines, this name strikes us as decidedly unsharable. We would have preferred a nonthreatening word that rolls off the tongue, like COVIDY (“COVIDY REACHES U.S.”), or more of a sense of personification, like COVIDER (“COVIDER ATTACKS!”), or perhaps honesty, like URFKD-20 (“URFKD-20 CONTINUES”).

The World Health Organization disagrees. After taking nearly two months to name the disease, it landed on a pronounceable name that does not include a location, animal, or group of people, thereby avoiding stigma. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO chief, told grateful reporters.

Yesterday, the virus itself also got a name. In recognizing that it is “a sister” virus to SARS coronaviruses, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named it SARS-CoV-2. It, too, proposes a future naming scheme that will allow researchers to pinpoint strains without waiting months for official designations. (Specifically, strains can be named SARS-CoV-2/Isolate/Host/Date/Location).

That cheering sound you hear is journalists worldwide thrilled that they no longer need to write about “novel coronavirus,” which is a broad term like “new cats” or “new bacteria,” designating a variety of viruses that include the common cold.

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