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It’s time to update your COVID-19 response plan…again

October 27, 2020

CDC redefines COVID-19 close contact

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the expansion of how it defines a close contact of someone infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Previously, the CDC described a close contact as someone who spent 15 or more continuous minutes within six feet of someone who was infectious. The CDC now says a close contact is someone who spent a cumulative 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who was infectious over a 24-hour period, even if the time isn’t consecutive.

According to the CDC, the change in definition was triggered by a report made public last week concerning a correctional officer who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August. Despite wearing personal protective equipment, an investigation revealed that prior to the officer’s diagnosis he had numerous brief encounters with six COVID-19 positive inmates over an eight-hour shift totaling 17 cumulative minutes of exposure. With no other known close contact exposures outside of work, no travel outside of his home state during the 14 days preceding illness onset, and a low rate of infection in his county of residence and the county where the correctional facility is located, the investigation concluded that his most likely exposure occurred through these multiple brief inmate encounters.

This change to the definition of close contact is likely to have its biggest impact in workplaces, schools and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time.

What employers should do now?

Review and update your COVID-19 response plan and ensure you provide the updated plan to your employees. Contact tracing for close contact is a critical element to an effective response plan. Employees need to understand the change in this threshold.

If you need assistance in drafting or updating your response plan, please contact a member of Godfrey & Kahn’ Labor, Employment & Immigrations Law Practice.

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