On Wednesday, October 21, 2020, the CDC issued an expanded definition of who is considered a “close contact” for purposes of determining who should self-quarantine for 14-days following an exposure to a COVID-19 confirmed individual. Previously, the CDC defined “close contact” as someone who was within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 positive individual for a prolonged period, which the CDC indicated was generally 15 continuous minutes or more.
Now, the CDC provides that a person can become infected even if they were within 6 feet of a confirmed COVID case for only a short period if they were around them a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. In other words, short intervals of being around someone who is later confirmed to be a COVID positive case can still make that person a “close contact” if the individual exposures added together over the work day or shift equal or exceed 15 minutes total.
This broader definition significantly expands the universe of those who may have to self-quarantine when the employer learns of a laboratory confirmed COVID-19 case in the workplace. Many employers are having to do contact tracing on their own without the assistance of public health agencies. That task just got harder in light of this expanded definition. Employers will now have to account for all short duration contacts over the work day or 24-hour period for your employees, sometimes having to go back more than a week depending on when the COVID positive individual first had symptoms or was tested.