March 4, 2020

Reporters in several states in the U.S. are now covering COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. In case public health isn’t your regular beat, and to help you keep up with the changing story, we pulled together a few style tips from the Associated Press Stylebook’s Twitter account:

COVID-19 is acceptable on first reference:

But keep in mind that COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by this virus. The virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2, given by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that are named for the spikes on their surfaces, which have a crown-like appearance.

On Wednesday, the AP published a new topical guide for covering the coronavirus and updated its coronavirus entry to read as follows:


A family of viruses, some of which can infect people and animals, named for crownlike spikes on their surfaces.

The viruses can cause the common cold or more severe diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19, the latter of which first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

As of early 2020, phrasing like the new coronavirus or the new virus is acceptable on first reference for COVID-19, though stories should contain a mention of the disease’s official name, accompanied by an explanation.  COVID-19 is also acceptable on first reference.

In stories, do not refer simply to coronavirus without the article the. Not: She is concerned about coronavirus. Omitting the is acceptable in headlines and in uses such as: He said coronavirus concerns are increasing.

Passages and stories focusing on the science of the disease require sharper distinctions.

 COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. When referring specifically to the virus, the COVID-19 virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 are acceptable. But, because COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus, it is not accurate to write a new virus called COVID-19.

SARS is acceptable on first reference for the disease first identified in Asia in 2003. Spell out severe acute respiratory syndrome later in the story.

MERS is acceptable on first reference. Spell out Middle East respiratory syndrome later in the story.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Do not exaggerate the risks presented by any of the three diseases by routinely referring to them as deadlyfatal or the like.

Related: The readers’ guide to what you need to know about the coronavirus

Epidemic, pandemic.

Related: How newsrooms can tone down their coronavirus coverage while still reporting responsibly

As your newsroom covers events, businesses and travel impacted by the coronavirus:

Related: Follow the International Fact-Checking Network’s ongoing coverage of coronavirus misinformation here

When writing about specific cities and states, remember:

When quoting medical professionals:

Use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on first reference.

You can see more in the AP’s latest topical guide, including “hand-washing”, “outbreak” and “incubation period.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the latest guidance from the AP.

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for She can be reached at or on Twitter at @kristenhare

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

More News

Back to News