None of the Above

Q. How should we refer to the variants of the coronavirus? I see “a new variant of the coronavirus,” and I see “a new variant of COVID-19.” Which is correct?

A. The variants are of the virus itself, not the disease it causes, so they are properly referred to as variants of SARS-CoV-2 (an abbreviation for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”), the virus that causes COVID-19 (which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019”). So “a new variant of the coronavirus” would be preferable to “a new variant of COVID-19.”

For summaries from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see “Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants” (updated January 28, 2021), and “About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19” (updated February 12, 2021). These headlines alone demonstrate proper usage.

Last April we posted a brief guide to such terms—“Styling COVID-19 and Related Terms.” At that time we weren’t yet concerned with variants, but the advice relative to nomenclature continues to apply.