On October 21, 2020, the CDC issued an updated definition of the type of “close contact” sufficient for the potential transmission of COVID-19. The term “close contact,” as previously defined by the CDC, meant a contact within 6 feet for 15 consecutive minutes or more.

With the update, the CDC amended that definition to mean “someone 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. For asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection until the time the patient isolated.”

This means that shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period constitute close contact. This will be a change for employers, not just in determining possible exposure but also in contact tracing. The CDC also said to make the assessment without consideration of whether the individuals wore face masks.

The general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95. The determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact wore respiratory PPE. That also includes fabric face coverings.

The new standard is 15 or more cumulative minutes within 6 feet of an infected individual, regardless of face mask use. Employers should incorporate these changes into their existing policies and procedures.

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