On October 21, 2020, the CDC issued an updated definition of the type of “close contact” sufficient for potential transmission of COVID-19. The term “close contact” was previously defined by the CDA as a contact within 6 feet for 15 consecutive minutes or more. With the update, though, the CDC has amended that definition to mean “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.” This means that shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period constitute close contact. This is going to be a change for employers, not just in determining possible exposure but also in determining contact tracing. The CDC also said that the assessment should be made without consideration of whether the individuals were wearing face masks: “because 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 was wearing respiratory PPE.” That also includes fabric face coverings.
So, the new standard is: 15 or more cumulative minutes within 6 feet of an infected individual, regardless of facemask use. Employers are encouraged to incorporate these changes into their existing policies and procedures.