October 22, 2020

CDC Expands Definition of “Close Contact”

Yesterday, the CDC updated its definition of “close contact” of someone infected with the COVID-19.  Previously, “close contact” was defined as someone spends more than 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of an infected individual. Now, CDC has updated its definition of a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, starting from two days before illness onset (or asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

This means that multiple, brief exposures (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes) may now result in finding that a close contact has occurred. The change has significant implications, including potentially triggering more isolation and quarantine situations, and making contact tracing more difficult.

“[I]t’s critical to wear a mask because you could be carrying the virus and not know it,” the CDC said in a statement Wednesday. “While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual protection for everyone.”

Employers are advised to update their IIPP or other workplace protection plans to incorporate the expanded definition of “close contact” and ensure that workplace conduct is consistent with those plans in practice.