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CDC Redefines “Close Contact”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided an expanded definition of what constitutes
“close contact” for containing the spread of COVID-19. Previously, individuals within six feet of an infected person for 15 consecutive minutes were considered in “close contact.” Under the new definition, close contact is:

“Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.” [emphasis added]

Reportedly, the CDC changed the definition based on anecdotal evidence of a prison guard in Vermont who came down with the coronavirus following exposure to 6 inmates within 6 feet. These inmates all tested positive for the virus. The prison guard interacted with the 6 inmates 22 times, totaling 17 minutes, over 24 hours. The inmates wore masks some, but not all of the time they were within proximate distance of the guard. The guard wore a mask, gown, and goggles the entire time of his exposure. He claimed no other exposure to individuals with COVID-19 outside of work and did not travel outside the state.

The definition change expands the number of individuals who may be at risk. For employers implementing workplace accommodations, the change reflects an increased risk for employees and clients. Tracking individual cumulative exposure requires additional employer effort to evaluate before determining whether employees should be sent home to quarantine. Duration and frequency of exposure are now primary considerations.