On Wednesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on when people may have been exposed to the coronavirus due to close contact with an infected individual. Prior to the change, close contact was defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 continuous minutes or more. The new guidelines now define close contact as being was within 6 feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Those 15 minutes do not need to be continuous and could include repeated short exposures during the course of the working day.
The definition of close contact is used by public health agencies for purposes of COVID-19 contact tracing, and it could have a significant impact on workplace disease prevention measures. The change will likely expand the number of people who are considered to have had close contact with an infected individual. Therefore, it will also likely require employers to expand the number of employees notified of a potential exposure, as well as the number who need to be removed from the workplace due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Employers should revisit their COVID-19 prevention plans to incorporate the new guidance. They should also reevaluate their social distancing strategies to try to minimize even brief employee exposure events where possible.