Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, employers have been dealing with the concept of “close contact” for purposes such as employee notifications of positive workplace cases and employee quarantine obligations. On October 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated definition of “close contact” for purposes of determining whether someone should quarantine following a suspected or confirmed exposure to people with possible COVID-19. Under the latest definition, a person is a “close contact” if the person was:
- Within six feet of an infected person;
- For a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more; and
- Over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
Against this framework, an individual who has multiple, short encounters with an infectious person (e.g., three five-minute exposures within a 24-hour period) is now considered to have “close contact” for contact tracing purposes. This definition represents a significant departure from guidance provided by various local public health departments.
The CDC also reaffirmed other factors to consider when identifying close contacts for contact tracing purposes, including:
- The duration of exposure;
- Whether the infected individual has symptoms;
- If the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols; and
- Other environmental factors.
Finally, the CDC further advised that close contact determinations should be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory personal protective equipment.
Given the ever-changing nature of public health measures relating to COVID-19, businesses should regularly update their COVID-19 preparedness and response plans. If you have any questions, please contact Robert Dubault, DeAndre’ Harris, Steve Palazzolo or any member of Warner’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.