On Wednesday Oct. 21, the CDC updated its guidelines for tracking transmission of COVID-19. The CDC maintains that contact tracing be conducted for close contacts of laboratory confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients. Close contact is now defined as:

“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.”

Brief individual exposures of only a minute or two are to be added together over a 24-hour period to determine whether sufficient contact has occurred to rise to a level of “close contact” under this new guidance.  For example, three, 5-minute exposures within 6 feet of an infected person total 15 minutes and therefore qualify as a “close contact” with that person. Put otherwise, fifteen cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for close contact and appropriate investigation and follow up to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Until now, the definition of “close contact” was restricted to individuals who spent 15 consecutive minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case. The new definition expands this to 15 total minutes within a 24-hour period. Close contacts are directed to quarantine and get tested immediately.

Effects of New Definition:

The change will impact workplaces in which people spend time together throughout the day in small increments. If a positive test or probable case pops up in your office, this new definition of close contact will likely require more individuals to self-quarantine until a test has been administered.  As of today, October 23, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has not responded to this revised CDC definition, it would be prudent for Virginia employers in an abundance of caution to assume that the new CDC definition of “close contact” applies with respect to the Virginia OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard.

Please contact any member of the O’Hagan Meyer Employment Practice Group for additional information and the impact of this revision on your policies and practices.

Authored by: Joan C. McKenna and C.J. Wittmann