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CDC Widens What Counts as "Close Contact"

November 03, 2020

The meaning of “close contact” has changed. Your company’s safety policies may need to change with it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated what counts as “close contact” when gauging exposure to someone with the COVID-19 virus. The new guidelines take into account that even brief contact can result in transmission of the virus. This could increase the number of people who have to quarantine.

The CDC has consistently advised a 14-day quarantine for people “who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.” Under the old guidelines, “close contact” meant that a person was within 6 feet of someone with the virus for 15 minutes or more.  However, under the new guidelines, the term “close contact” applies to:

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 two days before illness onset (or, for those without symptoms, two days prior to test specimen collection) until the person is isolated.

The broader meaning comes after a recent CDC study showed that a prison employee got the virus after a series of brief interactions with inmates, each lasting less than a minute. The inmates in question had been tested for COVID-19 and were waiting for results. At the time, none had symptoms, but all later tested positive. During his eight-hour shift, the correctional officer was within 6 feet of an infectious inmate an estimated 22 times while the cell door was open, for an estimated 17 total minutes of cumulative exposure. The officer wore a microfiber cloth mask, gown and eye protection during all interactions.

Employers who have adopted COVID-19 safety procedures and contact tracing should make sure their policies comply with the new CDC guidelines.

Please contact Mark Fijman or any other member of Phelps’ Labor and Employment team if you have any questions or need compliance advice and guidance. For more information related to COVID-19, visit Phelps’ COVID-19: Client Resource Portal.