CDC Broadens Definition of "Close Contact"

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

October 27, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its definition of close contact, which will affect contact tracing, employee notifications, return-to-work certifications and other coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns for many employers.

Under the new definition, a close contact is someone who was within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more 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. Individual exposures are added together over a 24-hour period (for example, three 5-minute exposures would result in a total of 15 minutes' exposure).

Previously, the definition made no mention of cumulative exposure, so close contact was presumed to require 15 minutes of consecutive exposure.

Employers should update their policies and procedures to account for this change, including but not limited to:

  • Any forms and/or procedures for contact tracing, to help identify and notify co-workers and others who may have been exposed;
  • A self-certification to return to work, through which an employee can attest that they have not had close contact with an individual diagnosed with or showing symptoms of COVID-19; and
  • A pre-work health screening with which employers can ask employees about any close contacts.

In addition, employers should consider updating social-distancing practices with an eye toward limiting cumulative, as well as consecutive, exposure to co-workers and others.